I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends. – Abraham Lincoln
We often hear people speak of finding “common ground” when debating contentious issues. But even when opposing political factions find common ground, it is the areas where they disagree that perpetuate political divides.
Resolving disagreement by finding common ground is a myth. What resolves conflict is a more thorough understanding of those we disagree with. Understanding why our opponent believes what they believe is much more important than seeing similarities in our beliefs. Understanding the values of our enemy helps us to either help them achieve those values or to understand what we can or cannot do to create a better relationship. Once we understand the other person, we can acknowledge their goodness, and retreat from thinking of them as wholly evil.
What makes a friendship? Is it shared values, is it common interests? Of course, but it is more. Good friends are people we trust. We trust them because they focus on what is good about us, and not what is bad.
Our local community, city, state and national governments, politics in general, and foreign affairs are all relationships that we navigate as humans. We as a nation need to extrapolate the values of what makes a good personal friendship and extend it to other areas of our political system where we interact as fellow human beings. I need not agree with everything others do, but neither do I need to consider those who I disagree with as evil enemies.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was criticized for saying he would dialogue with our enemies as a political outreach. He seemed to understand this principle that dialogue leads to understanding, which will break down the barriers between nations. If we won’t speak to an enemy, there is no way that we will ever show them enough respect of their values to breach those issues that divide us.
In the end, all people have shared values of physical and financial security, faith, and fear of death and destruction. That should be a starting point to understand those we call our enemies, and the more we understand their true motivations, the less they will be seen as a threat to our own needs.