In search of common ground

The 2016 election, not to mention the weekend’s inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, exposed deep chasms between various groups of Michiganders.

Beginning with today’s issue and continuing through 2017, Bridge Magazine will follow closely 11 very different people and families to help us all gain insight into the views of those who many not always agree with us. Bridge will report on these Michiganders throughout the year to see how their hopes and fears play out and how their attitudes change or solidify.

Our hope is that this extended journalism will help us all – regardless of politics, demography, geography, gender – better understand one another as we search for common ground in uncommon times.

It’s clear that many of us disparage – “demonize” is the stronger term – those we know little about. We often erect stereotypes – demeaning, often inaccurate, even outright hostile.

These gulfs were perhaps not as noticeable before last year’s election as they are now. And the consequences of failing to understand those who differ from us are now both increasingly difficult and even dangerous. In a state like Michigan, poised between the hope for vibrant and sustained prosperity and an impoverished and unhappy future, it’s clear that we all need better ways of finding common ground about where we stand as a state and how important it is to erect a shared agenda for a better life here at home.

Bridge is a program of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, nonpartisan “think-and-do tank” devoted to finding ways to make Michigan a better place. The Center does not participate in partisan political activity, nor does it endorse candidates.

It works in three ways:

Public engagement: Every year since 2007, the Center has sponsored community conversations throughout Michigan. These small gatherings are designed to solicit, bottom up, citizen preferences about the kind of state they want and how best to achieve it. The people who attend these conversations – in gender, age, residence, and race – reflect the everyday reality of Michigan’s diversity. These conversations have so far attracted more than 45,000 participants – certainly the largest public engagement program in Michigan’s history and among the biggest ever in the country. Results are published in annual “citizen agendas” that capture the attitudes and anecdotes offered by Michiganders of all stripes.

Fact-driven, trustworthy journalism: Bridge Magazine has earned over one million annual readers, is the Michigan Newspaper of the Year and is widely regarded as the source for the best, most fair-minded journalism in the state.

Policy advocacy: When the Center learned 30,000 poor and vulnerable four year-olds in Michigan were denied places in the state’s early childhood school program for lack of legislative support, our advocacy helped persuade the state to more than triple support for the Great Start Readiness Program. Michigan now leads the nation in this important effort to help our children succeed in schools and become productive employees for our economy.

Our state today looks a lot like a big room with varying groups huddling in various corners, suspicious, unspeaking, even hostile. Beginning today, our effort to describe, understand and explain these varying groups arises from our conviction that together we are far stronger than we are when apart and that unless we can find ways to develop and share a common agenda we will never achieve our bright destiny as a state.

We hope you enjoy – and find challenging and illuminating – our reporting. We look forward to hearing your reactions to it, beginning with sending your comments on this column to me.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

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Daniel Schifko
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:00am

Maybe you could start with balanced fact based stories instead of the left-center bias apparent in most your articles. Some of the irrational paranoid thoughts and feelings expressed in Mr. French's "article" would not exist if you focused on facts. The promise you made in the beginning was a fair, fact, not opinion, based news source dedicated to building a bridge between people of different views. Do that and maybe some fear and anxiety based divisions would be erased.

William Berry
Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:59pm

Michigan Divided was a great way to try and understand the election of President Trump. I am am among those who are concerned for our future and look forward to the followup articles. My vote was not for President Trump, his objectives and methods frighten me.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 1:50pm

In order to have any conversation there has to be an agreed point of reference. When facts become arguable based on ideology and political spokespersons talk about "alternative facts" then there is no room for conversation. Conservatives like to pontificate about "liberal or left wing facts" when the facts don't play to their ideology but that doesn't change what is provable and what is fantasy. It's one of the reasons for dismissing fact checking & accepting propaganda or false news instead. One example is that NAFTA was the product of the republican congress & a democratic president. From there flows the argument about cause and effect related to the decline of manufacturing jobs in Michigan. Who is politically responsible for NAFTA is a fact not amiable to ideology, the other causes for the decline and the results are where disagreement and discussion lies. But first we have to agree that a conservative free market ideology adopted by some centralist democrats resulted in the trade pact in the first place. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and "alternative facts" and bombastic tweets doesn't change that "fact".

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 1:00am

John,Sure there is room for conversation it you want to change results. I agree \'91facts\'92 in political discussion are highly over rate. But that is also true of any high level philosophical or social conversation. Facts in these discussions are used as a tool for convincing others or one\'92s self that you [the person offering the facts] have the political/moral high ground.This is particularly true when the facts are not well defined and aren't of measured real time events.Michigan has an estimated population of 9,928,300 [U.S. Census Bureau], a \'91best guess\'92. "When the Center learned 30,000 poor and vulnerable four year-olds in Michigan were denied places ...\'94 aren\'92t facts, they are a \'91best guess\'92. \'91Facts\'92 when it comes to poorly define categories of people are always \'91best guess\'92, our population is too large to know the facts of any category, such numbers are simply convenient \'91best guesses\'92. The Center uses their estimate to lend weight to their actions and success, but does it really matter? If it is thousand or 100 thousand, should we be looking at the issues and the results differently? If the program proponents don\'92t/won\'92t track each child they put in program to verify the program results I would question whether they are really interest in \'91facts\'92? Similarly, "Bridge Magazine has earned over one million annual readers..." is that fact and what fact is it? Are we to believe that Bridge readership was more than 10% of all Michigan residents last year? Or could it be that the million readers are actually a relatively small number that read the Bridge a 2-5 times a week, that would be a range of 10,000 - 4000 individual readers. What is the \'91fact\'92, there are a million readers or a million openings of articles on Bridge by 10,000 readers? Is this \'91fact\'92 or an \'91alternative fact\'92? Facts are irrelevant unless it is personal and necessary for the design of the solution, space travel for the astronaut is personal and needs facts, the temperature milk is stored at and for how long is personal and needs to be factual. Political numbers are tools not \'91facts\'92, but that doesn\'92t mean that a conversation to solve a common problem shouldn\'92t happen.With regards to NAFTA, we don\'92t need to stipulate anything about the past; we can\'92t change what happened all those years ago. There is no benefit in placing blame because all that does is create barriers to progress. We need to look at the situation we are in and try to change NAFTA to improve its future impact.

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 8:14pm

Too often the phrase "common ground" has come to simply mean ...give everything over to the liberal side....and if we don't then we're racists, xenophobes, pedophiles and every other god awful name they can think of...well, I'm for abandoning the "compromise at all costs" theory of everything...The liberal philosophy has failed in every way possible...Every liberal agency...Every liberal bureaucrat, politician has failed....Now it's their turn to find "common ground" ...not mine...I'm thru with that.

Craig Schmidt
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:05am

Excellent idea, Phil. Aristotle said something like this, "It is a sign of an educated mind that can entertain an idea and not accept it." Hopefully we can encourage people of opposing views to "entertain" the views of the "opponent" so they won't appear so oppositional to each other. It is our only hope. On a separate note, I am involved in school reform and believe that the long-term solution to the opposinal nature of our social/political climate is the education of our young. As Jefferson said, "The strength of our democracy is dependent upon the education of the common man". If our democracy is to survive, we need to create an educational system that services all of the "common people", one that cultivates minds to entertain the beliefs and feelings of others. Thank you for the work you do, Phil, I will be following this series with great interest

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 3:46am

I'm with you Jess. You hit it out of the ballpark with your comment. I too am sick and tired of being called every name in the book when I don't follow the liberal way. For too long I've kept my thoughts to myself, worked hard to support my family, obeyed the law, served my military service, and paid my taxes. Finally we have someone who is for Americans first and will not give what we have achieved to someone who has contributed nothing.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:58am

Craig,I agree with your post completely. The problems of today require a deep thinking electorate to solve these issues. Growing up in Detroit, my parents instilled in us the great need for life long learning, and a sound education is the first step. keep working for education reform!

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 10:22am

I've worked hard since I was in my teens, paid my taxes, obeyed the law. I am not a veteran, however I am the daughter of a WWII veteran and a proud Rosie the Riveter. and I honor and respect those who serve. I am a 65-year old African American woman and a progressive Democrat. I too am tired of being stereotyped as someone who doesn't want to work or wants a government handout or is living in an urban hell hole where you're scared to set foot. People of all ethnicities share the same problems of income inequality. My family is from West Virginia and I live in Detroit so I certainly understand where your anger about inequality of opportunity comes from. What I can't understand is why it's aimed at people like me. I think we have a lot more "common ground" than you think. However, like you, there are issues - such as civil rights - on which I don't plan to back down. Thank you.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:17am

So you think the educational system (the state) has the responsibility to develop the minds of its citizens or is it much more widespread and organic process than this? Seems that you left out the place of the parents or is this not a part of your and Bernadette's brave new world?

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 1:35pm

I believe Bernadette implied the important/obvious role parents play when she referenced her own parents ("instilling the need for life-long learning"). And, Phil's advocacy for the state's role in supporting early childhood programs (that was sorely lacking, yet universally accepted as having a profound correlation with student success) has produced results that ease the burden on parents who are giving it their best just trying to make ends meet -- a goal of public education since its inception.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:14am

It is true that--human nature being what it is--we all mainly associate with like-minded souls. This tends to foster an us vs. them attitude when it comes to people with whom we disagree. One way to mute this common tendency is to find virtues in the people on the other side of the cultural divide. For example, we all know individuals at work or within our kinship group who have opinions far different from our own but whom we nonetheless hold in high regard. When thinking of our political or philosophical opponents, it would be better if we focused of the other side's better members rather than the worst of their adherents. We would certainly hope our adversaries in the contest for ideas would grant us that kind of grace when members of our side step out of line (as when all conservatives are indicted when an anti-choice proponent shoots an abortionist or liberals are condemned en mass when left-wing demonstrators burn cars and loot stores).

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 12:05am

I am not clear on what 'common ground' is needed. However, if the effort is to find a means of bringing people together, to help them better appreciate each other, to find that differences can be a strength, to help us respect each other, and to even be civil and consideration let me offer a parallel activity for Bridge to consider.

Rather than see the differences between people as barriers recognize them as different perspectives and use that to be a tool for addressing problems and creating the relationships Mr. Power seems to be striving for.

I offer an alternate approach to run parallel to this journalistic story that Bridge will be following. Set up a series of problem solving teams, being sure to enlist a diversity of perspectives on each team, and then turn them loose on solving different problems. I would encourage that there be an individual assessment of views by each member to capture their perceptions before beginning their team participation and then an assessment when the teams have completed their work to see if there are changes and direction of those changes. This pre and post survey could be used for a reader group that follows the Bridge articles on the 11 families to see the impact of Mr. Power’s approach to ’common ground.’
I offer my alternative because how I have seen how people come together, how they develop a respect for those they work with as they learn to see how their [different] perspective is a strength for the team and improves the solution to their common problem. In the case of this approach it will likely develop ideas that can be used beyond the individual teams. It is much like following a path with your head down and eyes on where you step and then another person mentions how they see the path and it is a bit different so you look up and notice there are other paths to consider and reasons why they may be the one to choose. You understand that the differences are what strengthens us so you are open to differences on more and more things.

I appreciate this is out of the Bridge plan, but if Bridge is trying to change how people in overcome those divides Mr. Power lists then why not consider it. I suspect there are many readers willing to participate and do the team work openly on the pages of Bridge.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:23am

I look forward to your series of articles on this topic. On a personal note, I am trying to understand how women could accept voting for a male that molest women. Even one women in the article indicates that is the way it is. Is this the way we want it? I would not want it for my wife, daughter or grand daughter.

Kevin Grand
Sun, 01/29/2017 - 8:16am

Good point, but you'll be running into something I had posted "pre-upgrade" (which IMHO, was totally unnecessary) that hasn't migrated over to this page yet, you are still dealing with individuals whose philosophies are diametrically opposed to one another.

If the questions is tossed out to the group regarding addressing LGBT issues, Messrs. Knuth and Leija will very likely advocate something polar opposite from what Mr. Hulett will propose. I don't see either side "accommodating" the viewpoint of the other.

Ms. Conner's views on economic issues will almost certainly differ greatly from those of Mr. Price, and with the same results from that hypothetical group.

If the topic is on the causes of domestic terrorism, the Charara Family might find a kindred viewpoint with Mr. Diaz, but will they agree with anything from Mr. Herbon?

The problem here is similar to the piece done a few weeks back on "fake news"; who ultimately decides on what it is?

Or in this case, how do you document change from individuals who won't change?

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 4:37pm

did you ask your wife or daughters about any encounter?

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 6:33pm

Robert Dunn, how many women that complain about Trump also read trash bondage books like 50 Shades of Grey? How many of them engage in women's locker room talk? My sister in law is a nurse and she has told me that the women nurses talk about male patients penis sizes. They also joke among themselves about men that have dysfunction issues, like calling them limpy. Oh, and of course, they all manage to sneak a peek at a larger guy, since news spreads quickly about the stud in Room 410 that's hung like a horse. Don't put halos on women because they can be just as bad as anything Trump said.

Steve Barnaby
Sun, 01/29/2017 - 8:04am

As a mediator and facilitator for two decades in Europe, Asia and the U.S. , I have learned that discovering common values and implementing programs around those values is the key to bringing diverse groups together. People are willing to put aside their differences if they have a common goal to achieve. This collaborative process builds trust and understanding, the ingredients for future positive relationships. I look forward to this series and hope that it spends some time helping the subjects, the readers and the journalists discover common ground.

George Moroz
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:33am

I hope that Bridge is not sliding into the fantasy of \'93there are no bad ideas, just different perspectives.\'94 There are plenty of bad ideas out there that deserve to be examined, exposed and resisted. That\'92s why we have brains and the (too-often not exercised) ability to reason.

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:23pm

I agree. Finding common ground is important, and have seen your approach "discovering common values and implementing programs around those values is the key to bringing diverse groups together" work very well.

What common values were the basis of democracy? What do we want for OUR country. Politics have become so polarized and money can buy anything, even public office. Is this what we want for our country?

I would look forward to such a conversation.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:12am

Phil,It is exciting to hear about this approach by Bridge, and I hope you will attract a diverse group to community conversations as well. Conversations that will explore the "reality" of life in Michigan today, why things are as they are, and what "we the people" want and value for the future. This will mean Looking at facts, understanding the history of what has created this "outcome", deciding what we want to create together, and putting aside our own "solutions" to come up with solutions for the common good.This can be done when everyone sets aside their ego's, and works together.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 12:52pm

Finding "common ground" will be an interesting proposition given that you have some groups which are diametrically opposed to one another. Although I am curious to see how, or even if, this does turn out.

John Q. Public
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 7:33pm

I'm curious, too. We have spent the last fifty years praising and promoting a societal philosophy that guarantees conflict, and then act surprised when that's what we get.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 4:53pm

Well in 1985/90 the workloss with the incoming computer0(IN MY CASE SALES)WAS ACCORDING TO THE POLITIC .HELP US TO FIND OR RETRAIN FOR NEW JOB AND PAY US .TILL WE WHERE FULLY EMPLYOED1well needless to say the training did not happened and neither the money..that politic promised.many stores closed ..K-mart.jacobson..there program of.... EURISA Benefit Pension Corporation .refused to pay_out!At age 40 and older most business do not hired you /me and a living wages.just insurance!Now the job with the union payed is very good plus with $ 25.00 union dues a months you?me have haelthinsurance that included eyes and dental...thank you UNION!mothers and Children first : no extra care for childcare and in some case you cannot deduct it from I R S years ago..and then the big childsupportchecks that never come.with the help of Friend of the COURT. Miichigan child enforcement.or the Enforcement from Washington..D>C only 20% of children get here childsupportchecks.SO why do we have agency that do not produce checks for the children .lets close them and spend that money on the children 30 years is a long time to the interest is 10% a year.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 5:08pm

sorry it is me again..but then in 2004 Congress raided theSOCIAL SECURITY Lockbox of $ 1.5 trillion and also started the housing crises(mortgage scam with over 80 000 by one local Congress)made himself a millonare. congress closed the saving and loans and l the little Hometown Banksthen they foreclouse (foreclosure just to take a year now less then 30 days) on your house $ 150 000 your loss sold by bank for $ 25 000 ..!!you/me lost our saving account(some lost there $30 000IRA)no more christmas accounts.Or payed interest of (18% in 1985 a months)NOW...interest 0.09 on$ top it off Wallstreet comonidies foods bubble made people poorer and sicker on manufacture Food> closed more groceries store al..around the State and country.Jobs lost and Taxes not payed 2017 raised the rent and(DTE bill by 50%)love your country!

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 9:37pm

I just watched a video on "talking across the divide" (11 minutes) NY Times. of three parents and their children and it showed them on the phone having conversations about these two candidates. Two of the oldster parents were Trump fans with "kids" ((25-35) who were non-Trump persons (thought he was the "anti-christ" etc.:). The 3rd father was a liberal while his daughter was a GOP college student on campus and becoming a lawyer too. There conversations were such fun to hear/see and I'd encourage you to use such a format, as it's so easy to identify with their sighs and even as they hang up to hear the love, but at the same time the exasperation. I'm fascinated at how folks navigate this landscape and have these difficult conversations, and the side/by/side video phone conversations really "did it" for me. Thanks for all your efforts Phil. Really enjoy Bridge so much.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 9:42pm

I'm afraid you are about to make the same mistake Obama Barack made in his first two years as President. Despite enjoying a majority of Democrats in both House and Senate, he tried to compromise and find common ground with the Republicans. The Republicans saw their chance, and decided to just say NO! to every part of Obama's agenda. And we, the majority by 3 million votes, have lost the presidency to a person and party who will throw out the gains realized by common men and women over many decades. I and others have sworn we will do everything we can to reverse this catastrophe in two years and take back the Congress. We do not wish to understand the Trump team, we wish to defeat them and restore the liberal-Democratic plan for progress.