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Common ground

by Jorge Waxemberg

In each of our daily activities we need a lot of effort and no small amount of skill to be able to behave as expected. At work, for example, we are supposed to carry out our obligations well and to conduct ourselves in such a way as is in keeping with our position. We have to treat clients in a certain way and supervisors in another. When we leave work and take the bus or train, we must act in one way; if we speak with a stranger, we express ourselves in yet a different manner.

We continuously change the way we express ourselves according to changing situations. We adapt so spontaneously and quickly that we think that we are always the same. We think we never change how we act and relate. One of the fundamental aspects of our education is precisely this: knowing how to behave in an appropriate way in all circumstances and recognizing the difference between one situation and another. Thanks to this capacity, it is possible for us to maintain a system of relationships, which is very complex but, at the same time, is not burdensome nor that hard to maintain.

"Our human condition unites us. What we have in common constitutes a much more powerful bond than the differences we use against one another. "

Even so, many of us are not satisfied with the way we relate, not because it is bad, but because it is superficial. We would like to establish deeper, more meaningful relationships. It is obvious that we cannot do this with everyone, but we wish we could with at least those we are close to. Unfortunately, this is something that we do not always find easy to do. To achieve a good relationship within the framework of our daily activities, we need to exercise a great deal of control over ourselves. We have to absorb annoyances and difficulties without appearing frustrated. We have to maintain a certain demeanor at work and with associates. And because we cannot release our tension, it begins to build up. What better way to release it than when we meet a friend or arrive home?

Releasing our tension rarely opens up good communication with others. On the contrary, it is often a source of misunderstanding and mutual pain. Our friend also may want to unburden his problems on us, and at home others, too, tend to release their tensions and frustrations. We cannot hope to have a good relationship with someone if we cry on her shoulder or make her the recipient of our frustrations and reactions. Our friends and family may very well expect different behavior from us.

What can we do to improve the situation and transform it into a means of communicating more deeply with one another?

We can do a lot. We can begin by observing ourselves as we relate. We can see how we use others to release our frustrations or to get what we want. We can honestly look at the way we try to control others. As soon as we see ourselves a little more clearly, we realize that there are many little things we can do to improve our relationships.

Let's begin with a very simple fact about relationships: When we are with other people, we tend to emphasize our differences-contrasting opinions, customs, preferences, objectives. When this happens, we usually defend our position and others defend theirs. It is but a short step from this stage to an argument or serious misunderstanding. This approach, of emphasizing differences, seldom leads to good relationships or a real understanding between people. We need a different method. Instead, we can attempt in any relationship we may have to uncover elements we share, what we could call "common ground." When we discover similarities, we find a common language, and through that common language a closer relationship begins, which can deepen with time and effort.

Differences are always relative to circumstances. Everyone undergoes different experiences. Our coworkers may be from different cultures and social conditions. Each personality is formed with its own characteristics. Even members of the same family are very different from each other. But we are all human beings, we are all sensitive to pain and joy, we all have difficulties, we all yearn for happiness, and we all seek the way to develop our possibilities.

Our human condition unites us. What we have in common constitutes a much more powerful bond than the differences we use against one another. In the end, what tends to separate us are elements of our own making which we ourselves can control and change. What unites us belongs to our human nature, to a history that is common to the whole human race and to the possibilities of all human beings. When we remain conscious of this common ground, and when our relationships unfold along this line, we automatically communicate better and find the channel by which we can understand one another deeply and permanently.


Reprinted from Living Consciously