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How compromise and commonality can change our toxic political climate

“If we can recognize that we have commonality,” writes Tom Christofferson, “we have an opportunity to decide we will stand with one another.”
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In the Aug. 9 edition of The New York Times, religion writer Elizabeth Dias, in a story titled, “‘Christianity Will Have Power’: The Pledge that Bonded Trump to Evangelicals,” quotes Iowan Caryn Schouten, explaining the frustration of feeling an outsider in her own country: “We are picking and choosing who matters and who doesn’t,” she said. “They say they are being picked on, when we are all being picked on in one shape or form.”

Therein, I believe, lies the seed of one potential to heal the breaches we identify in civil society. If we can recognize that we have commonality, even if it comes only in feeling that all individuals and groups are being “picked on,” we have an opportunity to decide we will stand with one another. Identifying workable compromises changes the game: no longer zero-sum where the gains of one group come at the expense of another; rather, seeking ways that all can participate, all can grow, and all can enjoy liberty, will benefit an entire nation.

For example, in the same article, Schouten’s husband, Micah, is quoted as saying, “Obama wanted to take my assault rifle, he wanted to take out all the high-capacity magazines.” From my perspective, I would feel safer in a country with no guns, yet others feel happier and freer if they have access to all types of guns available. Does it have to be that only one group can “win” on this issue? Certainly there are absolutists on both sides, but can’t the majority of people of good will find some common-sense middle ground that preserves the opportunity for those who enjoy sporting activities that include guns, while keeping guns out of the hands of those who are emotionally or mentally dangerous, or with criminal intent?

Similarly for abortion: There are absolutists on both sides, but are there also voices willing to find a balance between the health of a mother and the opportunity for life of a fetus? As we value all life, can we also work together to fund child care and pre-kindergarten programs to make parenthood more viable? Can we discuss whether a death penalty is contrary of our desire to sanctify life?

Will we see fair policing as a shared value, just as protections for equal housing and equitable employment practices encourage the belief that everyone has a chance to make of their lives what they will?

What we disagree with, in most cases, ought not be made illegal. We can allow others to experience their lives differently than we do without requiring that one is right and one wrong. Rather, in the words of the late President Thomas S. Monson, “Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing (his or her) best to deal with the challenges which come (their) way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.”

In this election season, I hope each one of us will make a personal determination to seek solutions to challenging issues that seek to treat justly all who are impacted, to listen broadly and with open hearts, to look for commonality rather than difference, to grow in respect and tolerance, to fight division and clannishness.

Tom Christofferson is the author of “That We May Be One” and the forthcoming book, “A Better Heart.”