In an already tumultuous time, democracies need the bonds of genuine relationships that extend beyond politics, bonds that sustain us in the midst of argument. Cultural divides can surface in our views of sports, music, movies, and business, but these are also cultural touchstones that can provide common ground.
In suggesting that cultural touchstones offer a chance for people of differing political viewpoints to find common ground, I’m not merely proposing that we engage in small talk akin to “how’s the weather.” Instead, drawing on studies of moral, psychological and even spiritual development, there are seven ways in which we can find common ground within each of those orientations.
The term “us vs them” rarely has a positive connotation. It suggests the dehumanization of the them. Yet, we all need an “us” and celebrating our families and friends is a good thing. There is a difference between “us and them” as opposed to “us vs them.” Second, rules allow us to live together. One of my sons plays baseball; the other plays soccer. If the soccer-playing son threw the ball or if the baseball-playing son kicked the ball, they wouldn’t be playing the right sport and they wouldn’t have the fun of playing the game. We can appreciate the rules that make the sport the sport that it is outside of who wins the game. We can also appreciate rules such as fair play (good umpires and referees) and rules of self-discipline that make an athlete excel regardless of our political views.
I begin with these two steps and extend them to five more, sometimes connecting them to sports, but in this video, I’m particularly focused on what dogs have to teach us. (Cats and other pets too!) They teach us values of the Golden Rule, of joy, of having a sense of perspective, and even wrestling with issues of transcendence itself.
When she was six, my daughter asked where her beloved Old English Sheepdog went after the dog passed away. I decided to write a book – never published – about how religions around the world would answer her question. Even in this space of transcendence, where presumably one might find religious conflict, I found that individuals I interviewed were keen on learning about what different traditions said about the fate of a dog. Talking about it with respect to a dog provided safe space. We always found common ground. If a cultural touchstone like our pets help us talk about something as complex as transcendence, it might help us see that amidst our difference, there is a lot of common ground on which we can build a more civil society.
The link provided begins a year-long series of how cultural touchstones, such as music sports, business and film help us identify common values that can sustain friendship and respect even while we disagree with each other.