The Things We Have in Common

In a mediation, key moments of progress often happen when the parties discover they actually have some things in common -- say two business people find that they have a shared hobby or two contesting neighbors discover that they both have had to navigate the challenges of a child with developmental issues.

Why is this? What is it about finding something in common with the person we are fighting that begins to break down the wall that divides us?

It's not only in outright disputes but in our day-to-day interactions that such walls of separation can start to break down. Nowhere is that perhaps more evident than multi-cultural New York. Consider the Indian colleague who enthusiastically invited me to join him at lunch one day at his favorite Indian restaurant -- well, actually it was Pakistani , he added with a grin -- but it had the best Indian food other than his mother's own cooking.

No doubt, food is often an excellent connector between peoples. Visit the Japanese mini-market in downtown Manhattan one day and you will find plenty of Chinese shoppers. Afterward, stop in at the hummus restaurant and you will see Lebanese and Israelis eating side by side. Perhaps it's no wonder that the phrase "breaking bread together" is used as a metaphor for making peace.

In fact, there are eating events now designed to start inter-group conversations. Take the "Breaking Bread" program at Cornell University's Center for Intercultural Dialogue, which brings together, over a meal, various campus groups and organizations that might not normally meet so that they can learn more about each other.

Then there is the Club des Chefs des Chefs, an association of chefs to the world's heads of state. Each year, they meet in a different country to share with each other their food and culture. Their slogan: "If politics divides people, a good table always gathers them."

Yet it is not just the joys of life that connect cultures but also the sorrows. The Parents Circle Families Forum is a joint Palestinian Israeli organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict in that region. Here they share their mutual grief.

Music, of course, is a deeply connecting medium -- and such organizations as OneBeat seek to grow that connection by bringing together musicians (ages 19-35) from around the world each fall to collaboratively write, produce, and perform original music, and develop socially-minded projects. Meanwhile, retiring New York Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert has recently announced plans for a United Nations of musicians.

Finally, there is a surge of collaborations in science. The number of multiple-author scientific papers with authors from more than one country more than doubled from 1990 to 2015, from 10 to 25 percent, according to a recent study from Ohio State University -- and 58 more countries participated in that time.

Certainly, in the realm of astronomy, it cannot be lost on any researchers -- whether in Beijing or Boston -- that we are all riding on the same mother ship: Earth. This photo from NASA perhaps best captures what we all have in common:

And so the next time we are engaged in a conflict, we might -- if we think of it -- try to stop just for a moment and consider not only the conflict we have in common with the other person but perhaps some other things we might have in common with them too.

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Thanks for reading. For mediation services and training, please contact me at josh@mendesmediation.com.

-- My Indian friend who took me to his favorite Indian restaruant...which is Pakistani

-- Israelis and Palesitnians sitting together in the Forum at the Kennedy School

-- Jewish, Christian, and Arab women covering their heads in Jerusalem.

-- Chinese shopping at Japanese grocery store

There's nothing like being out of our own region...and in some other part of the world...to make disputting neighbors see how much they share culturally.

Similarly, in mediation when disputing parties begin to see what they have in common...like neighbors who both relish their abodes....that conflicts start to resolve.

Seeing the commonality in the other person.

Here's something that will really make you appreciate we have in common: This is Earth....and we are all sitting somewhere on it, zooming through the galaxy.

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Joshua de Sola Mendes