Saturday, August 29, 2009

Frank Schaeffer: The Process of Finding Common Ground

I have recently read
How Free People Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and a Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer. Kathy and Frank look at what we have made of ourselves in the United States--a consumer society where our individual rights to consume and own are paramount and where we isolate ourselves into cliques of like-minded people who shun contact with opposing views. As a result, we have a society for which we fail to take responsibility, one where we let things happen. What is happening is that we are destroying our environment so as to get things to consume and that we find ourselves unable or unwilling to establish common ground from which to address this problem together.

How Free People Move Mountains takes the form of a conversation between Kathy and Frank, two individuals of very different background, religious faith, political persuasion, and world view. The genius of the book is that the conversation between Kathy and Frank constitutes a lived demonstration of how two very different people reach common ground, principles on which they can agree and from which they can plan and take action. Kathy and Frank show us the process of getting to common ground. It involves expressing their thoughts, listening carefully to the other, meeting the other half-way, recognizing areas of difference and searching for areas of agreement.

I read a review of How Free People Move Mountains on Goodreads by Elissa, who says, "Also, it was taking WAY too long to come to the point, which is that we all need to work together, regardless of our opinions, to get this country where it needs to be. While I agree with the point, I dislike the authors' way of getting there." This reviewer thinks she knows the point of the book, but in fact she has entirely missed it. The point is not "that we all need to work together, regardless of our opinions, to get this country where it needs to be." The point is to DEMONSTRATE how this is done. Sure, Kathy and Frank could have told us what we need to do in two or three chapters. But instead they show us HOW to do it by letting us watch them go through the process themselves. In watching them, we see that reaching common ground is not short or quick or linear. It takes time, it takes listening, it takes thought. And the process at times spirals back on itself; in other words, Kathy and Frank find themselves covering the same territory again but at a deeper level.

Thank you, Kathy and Frank, for being willing to put yourselves in a fishbowl and let us hear you disagree, share your thoughts and feelings, sometimes work through hurt feelings, but always hang in there with each other to search for and find common ground.

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