8 ways to find common ground

Gridlock plagues Washington. Polarizing soundbytes get constant play in the 24/7 news cycle. The culture wars rage on. But these Monitor op-ed writers suggest there’s more common ground than meets the eye. Here are eight powerful perspectives on the possibilities for meeting in the middle.

7. Fairness – we’re wired for it

Writer Peter Corning observes: “The word 'fairness' seems to be everywhere in our political dialogue these days.”

He considers the question from both “sides”:

Is it fair for Wall Street bankers who were bailed out by taxpayers to go back to paying bonuses as usual? Is it fair that government employees have generous fringe benefit packages when most taxpayers don’t enjoy similar benefits? Is it fair to reduce taxes for the wealthy while cutting back teacher salaries, Medicaid, and child nutrition programs to reduce budget deficits? Is it fair to require everyone to buy health insurance? On the other hand, is it fair to ask others to pay the health expenses of those who don’t buy insurance?

Corning explains:

There are so many differences of opinion on the subject because fairness is not a formula or recipe. Our sense of fairness is shaped by various cultural influences, the immediate context, and, of course, the lure of our own self-interests. Consider how long the US tolerated slavery and how many generations it took for women to obtain the right to vote.

Corning says that fairness “means taking into account different, often conflicting, interests and trying to strike a balance.” And he asserts: "Compromise is an indispensable solvent where fairness issues are concerned.” But in most debates, “Each side has based its case on merit, and each has a legitimate point.”

He continues:

What could be called the “deep psychology” of fairness also plays a major part in our social contract – the implicit understanding that binds together any stable and reasonably harmonious society.... Any society that systematically shortchanges these needs puts its social contract at risk. Think of Egypt and other Middle Eastern oligarchies...

Corning concludes: “Our innate sense of fairness is about more than simply political rhetoric. It’s a compass that points us in the right direction.”

Peter Corning is the author of “The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice.”


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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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