Seeking Common Ground: Why It’s Not as Hard as We Make It

March 9, 2018

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
I’ve often heard people remark how divided our nation is. Politically, this is definitely the case as the politics of polarization have divided our two major political parties to a breaking point.  However, the vast majority of people I talk to who are simply average, everyday men and women living in communities across our nation, are unified around several principles which, although all touched by politics, serve as common ground. 

In my very unscientific information gathering technique of having simple conversations with people I meet from all walks of life, I’ve found that people are not so different: they want to live in communities that are safe, provide jobs and econimic opportunity, give them the ability to educate their children, and that afford them access to good healthcare. How cities go about creating a culture that provides for these common ground opportunities can be open for debate.  The realization by local governments that the citizens we serve, no matter the district they live in, and are not too dissimilar when it comes to their basic wants and needs, can provide a framework for elected officials to work together towards resolving big picture issues facing cities nationwide.

I was reminded this week of the power of seeking common ground as I had the pleasure of serving as keynote speaker for Augusta University’s fourth annual Junior Model UN.  This year’s event was attended by 150 middle school students from 11 schools in the Augusta area.  During the session students were designated as delegates representing more than 50 countries. Their focus was on very relevant issue to our community and to the nation: cyber security.  The group was remarkably diverse with students representing different regions, faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. 

The premise of the event revolved around the Model UN Security Council being charged with the responsibility of regaining control of NORAD, the North American missile defense agency, after the agency was successfully hacked by North Korea.  The students, as delegates for their designated nation, were challenged to come up with a directive and action to avert the crisis by keeping North Korea from selling the information they had acquired through the hack. An intense situation for a group of middle schoolers to say the least.

What I witnessed in the room where the students were gathered was nothing short of inspirational.  The delegates were able to work together, to agree to disagree, to compromise and to ultimately resolve the conflict they’d been faced with.  In a matter of hours these middle schoolers were able to come to a common ground solution to the problem while listening to each other’s often opposing viewpoints, all the while treating each other with dignity and respect throughout the process.  Throughout the day new friendships were formed and a comradery was developed amongst the 150 students, many of whom had not met prior to the event. 

I must admit that I don’t remember exactly what I said in my remarks as I was overwhelmed with encouragement to see how a group of young people could set aside their differences and work together towards the solution of a big picture issue with a focus on serving the greater good.  One thing I do remember is asking those bright, innovative and enthusiastic young people to consider public service in their futures as I imagined what politics could look like with these students in elected office. On my way home I was struck with a thought: we adults can undoubtedly learn a lot from kids.

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