Finding Common Ground

Feminist author Naomi Wolf and writer Frederica Mathewes-Green disagree about whether abortion ought to be a legal right. But unlike many who take opposing sides on controversial issues, the two are committed to a process of dialogue that has come to be known as the "common ground" approach. The following is adapted from their remarks at an October 1997 Call to Renewal conference in Arlington, Virginia, on the far-reaching potential of the common ground process.—The Editors

Frederica Mathewes-Green: How can we actually get people who sharply disagree to talk to each other? First, you need to realize that the expectations and the goals of what common ground will accomplish are not enormous. We don't expect this to ever be a vast nationwide movement. We recognize there's a certain kind of temperament, a certain kind of person, who is attracted to common ground. They want to be there, they want to listen, they want to dialogue. It's a good thing to give the example of people in dialogue who disagree, peacefully, respectfully.

Second, it is fundamental in common ground to respect that people are going to disagree. Common ground is not about compromise or negotiation. In fact, attempting to persuade someone is forbidden under common ground rules. Our goal is just to understand a little better what people think. Because of the way the term common ground gets used, naturally some people presume it means that we're negotiating toward a compromised position in the middle. I can understand why people would think that, but that's not what we mean. People's profound convictions on this issue are respected and we don't try to change them.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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