Practicing Finding Common Ground

Dear Joel,

Students at Gonzaga University did something kind of special this semester: As part of Engaging with Communities for Justice, a conference sponsored by GU’s Institute for Hate Studies (of which I am a part), students in the university’s broadcasting program organized a “social experiment disguised as a gameshow” in which people of different political stripes to complete four challenges: 

For the first task, partners opened an envelope with a question on it–What is your favorite color?, for example–and earned a point for each time their partner said “me too” in response to their answer.

In another, called “Language Barrier,” partners were each taught just enough Esperanto to complete a task together.

In “The Newly Met Game,” participants  discussed difficult topics, such as kneeling during the national anthem.

Finally, partners worked together to write a manifesto of what they think it means to be an American.

After partners completed their tasks, the GU broadcasting students crafted their videos into a show, then shared it with an audience at the Hate Studies conference, who voted on which set of partners most effectively found common ground. (You can view the whole thing here.)


Above, the final Common Ground show.

As one broadcasting student said, “it’s not perfect,” but it’s a useful exercise that can, perhaps, help people humanize those they see as political opponents, encourage them to be empathetic listeners, and allow them to practice forbearance.