As I reflect upon my recent trip to Turkey, where I celebrated the New Year with family, I’m reminded that, at the most basic level, we are all the same. In so many ways, Turkey is a country marked by stark contrasts. The most visible manifestation of this is the dress of the women: everywhere you go you can find Muslim women fully covered from head to toe sitting side-by-side with Turkish women wearing miniskirts. Yet, as you interact with these women, you find they fundamentally want the same things for themselves and their families: health, happiness, safety, and love.
In the US, as we enter an election year, we are being bombarded with messages of difference, disagreement and opposition. As the American people are asked to make a choice about political candidates, it is important for us all to consider the similarities and differences among the slate of contenders. But, when it’s time to get the real work done, the challenge is for our leaders, and all of us, to focus on the areas where we do agree.
Through our research of major social transformations efforts – those designed to eradicate or make dramatic improvement on a social problem – we see that those who have successfully created real change have been skilled at finding common ground among unlikely partners. They have a true commitment to taking the time to explore and identify areas of agreement rather than focus solely on all the ways in which they disagree.
For example, in their quest to instill “designated drivers” as a new American social norm, the Harvard Alcohol Project was able to rally an incredibly diverse set of institutions and individuals in the interest of reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The partners and evangelists they mobilized included TV network executives, Hollywood producers and writers, the New York Times, two US Presidents, the Department of Transportation, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, and a number of brewing companies!
So, as we enter this new year, we at Community Wealth Partners renew our commitment to focusing on similarities rather than differences in our work with change agents, as we together seek to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems. This takes hard work, time, and patience. Yet while we work, youth continue to drop out of school at alarming rates and children go to bed hungry night after night, and it’s clear that there is just too much at stake for us if we don’t seek to find and leverage the many ways we are all the same.