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A political odd couple's advice on finding common ground

Don't demonize your opponents or let them demonize you - ignorance of each other stops discourse

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While he still doesn't admire Chambers the way Jack does, Gene understands some of the things that Jack finds admirable about him.

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We both look forward to getting together and the intellectual intrigue of exploring each others' opinions. Our discussions tend to be more interesting than the ones we have with friends and colleagues from our own ideological niches.

We talk a lot.

We listen.

And we learn.

We've come to believe that the political spectrum is something of a myth - artificially created to serve political rather than social and democratic purposes.

We're more interested in our common ground than in our differences, and have benefited from each other's insights and different points of view because it forces us to test our own assumptions. By talking with each other, we allow ourselves the potential to be persuaded.

We both love our country, which is common ground worth occupying together.

If you're uncomfortable in the din of this uncivil political season, we have a suggestion: Don't demonize your opponents or let them demonize you - ignorance of one another, by definition, stops democratic discourse. Winning is no victory if we destroy all sense of community and concern for the common good.

Americans love to talk about the nation's historic tradition of tolerance and compromise. But as a people, they seem less caring and less tolerant than their rhetoric suggests.

Instead of isolating themselves, Americans would do well to listen to some of one another's TV newscasts and radio stations, and to read a range of newspaper and magazine articles. Conservative radio commentators such as Rush Limbaugh talk largely to the converted, as does a liberal commentator like Randi Rhodes at the other end of the political spectrum. While we might agree in principle with some of what they say, they stop the discourse.

The public square ought to be a venue in which the truth is sought, rather than opponents bloodied for sport. Talking about our common concerns first and our differences second keeps discourse going.

In our case, we believe we've created an effective and meaningful dialogue about one area of common interest between us - video games and the needs of our children. That point of earnest contact creates understanding on a range of issues we might not agree on.

Similarly, Americans might be more productive in addressing the pressing issues of our time if healthy discourse were allowed. No one, for example, can argue that the war in Iraq, the crisis in healthcare and insurance, the growing disparity between haves and have-nots, the threat of terrorism, or the increasing deterioration of the natural environment are issues that do not affect us all.

If you are really concerned about what is happening in American society, if you are really worried about our direction and purpose as a nation, we invite you to engage yourself in dialogues and discussions with people who are fundamentally different from you - or at least appear to be.

Surrounding yourself only with like-minded individuals is ultimately an isolating experience.

We suggest that you reach beyond your own ideological clique and talk to someone who truly thinks differently from you. In the common ground that you'll almost certainly find with others will be the issues that you can potentially take action on together to help create a better nation.

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr. is a professor in the social and cultural foundations of education at the University of Miami. Jack Thompson is a public interest lawyer. They are collaborating on a book, 'Public Nuisance,' which provides techniques for the average citizen to become more politically and socially active.

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