January 25, 2011 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Sitting Together, On Purpose"
I served as a guest pastor at a nearby church this past Sunday and was witness to a small miracle. Just four hours before the kick off to the NFC title game I witnessed Chicago Bear fans and Green Bay Packer fans sitting together in the same pew, with both fan groups proudly wearing their favorite fan apparel. Before church started I was told that there were two Bears fans in the choir, and when I asked if this was true during the service, they both proudly stood up without a moment’s hesitation to declare their support for the “other side.” If you are a reader of this column who lives outside the greater Milwaukee area, you need to understand that people around here “bleed green and gold” for the Packers and so this truly was a minor miracle.
Speaking of opposing sides sitting together, many members of Congress have pledged to cross the aisle and sit with one another at the President’s State of the Union Address tonight. This symbolic gesture by both political parties is intended to signal a new resolve to maintain civil discourse as they work together to solve the tough problems facing our nation. There is certainly no illusion that this will in and of itself create the civil discourse our nation needs, but it is certainly a small step in the right direction.
In my work as a coach and consultant, I often get called when groups of people--couples, families, or congregations--are having trouble sitting together in the midst of their strong differences. “She is way too controlling as a parent.” ”He doesn’t have any boundaries!” ”They are going to destroy this church with all these new changes.”--”They are so stuck in the past that this church will surely die.” ”She believes in frittering our money away just so she can enjoy today.” ”He is such a tightwad and insists that every extra penny goes into saving for the future.”
There approach I always use when helping people who are in locked in conflict is always the same: I help them to identify a higher purpose around which they can come together and unite. “I know that you, like me, want what’s best for our child.” “I know we both value tradition and yet want to be sure we continue to be relevant to people today.” “I know that we both want to find a balance between saving for the future and enjoying the present so both of our needs are met.”
When groups of people find a higher purpose to unite around, they can accomplish great things. When they do not, they will usually end up bickering about their differences. I think of several non-profit boards of which I have had the honor to be a member. These boards always consisted of a mixture of conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Jews and people of no particular faith group. What allowed us to work so well together was the fact that we were united by a higher purpose, such as feeding the hungry, providing academic support to failing students, caring for the elderly, and caring for the victims of domestic violence. In fact, the most effective boards were those who intentionally populated themselves with a variety of different view points and backgrounds. It seems we all have something important to contribute to the larger good.
So the next time you find yourself having trouble “sitting with” someone whose viewpoints are different than yours, try seeing if there is a higher purpose around which you can genuinely unite. Sitting together--and working together--on purpose, is a great idea for all of us, not just for sports fans and the members of Congress.
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