I can’t be sure, of course, how you feel about things. Nowadays people seem to be either in complete accord with or diametrically opposed to each other. There’s very little inclination to provide "wiggle room" for discussion. I guess that’s what made those very few historical figures we call statesmen so remarkable. They viewed all sides of an issue and found ways to get all parties to stop for just a moment before moving forward in a civil manner.
In my own experience it’s always pleasing to find some little nuance, a memory or two which still carries significance, when I’m engaged with someone espousing a different opinion. You and I can more easily agree to disagree, civilly, when we’ve experienced and value something in common.
This common ground lets us know that the other guy matters. Though we may disagree on the issue at hand, our commonly held value helps us behave in a civil manner.
Here’s a favorite example which sheds light on this matter. The legendary Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry was a hero of mine, for I knew that before he played and coached football he’d piloted a B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II. On the other hand, I never much listened to anything South Dakota Sen. George McGovern said, because he was an unabashed liberal. But while researching the presidential candidates back in 1972, I learned that McGovern piloted a B-24 Liberator — Dakota Queen — on 35 missions in the 15th Air Force over North Africa and Italy, saved his crew in a heroic crash-landing and was highly decorated when discharged.
I learned a lot from that ’72 election, as did all of America, and I always felt badly for Sen. McGovern, who didn’t even carry his home state. I regret not making time to personally thank him for his service, both as a B-24 man and as a senator, for I learned from him that we all share common ground, whether we’re conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal or whatever.
That said, consider this: finding common ground is perhaps the most important thing we can do to understand each other better, to discuss our differences and disparate opinions productively, to promote a new age of statesmanship.
You might wonder where such common ground might be found among us. It’s not far away at all, really. Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, and take me out to the ball game.
It’s important, you see, to attend at least one major league baseball game every season, to remember what it’s like to be a kid, to be around big leaguers who can throw a baseball nearly 100 miles an hour and others who can hit it when it’s thrown that fast.
Last Saturday at Turner Field, before the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Atlanta Braves, I lived the dream so many little boys dream. I talked with Dodgers manager Joe Torre in his clubhouse office, enjoyed an unexpected chat with legendary Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher, caught up with Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in the dugout while the Braves took batting practice, and in the clubhouse tunnel talked to Chipper Jones and told him how much I’ve enjoyed watching him play the game.
At sold-out Turner Field the Braves won, 4-3. In the press box I heard comments from left-wingers, right-wingers and middle-of-the-road folks on subjects ranging from the weather to politics, from religion to medical care. No matter the topic, though, conversation always stopped when the pitcher went to the windup, or kicked from the stretch.
And that’s the magic instant, you know, when every defensive player locks into his ready position, the batter waits and the pitch is on the way. Everything and everybody in the park just stops and focuses on that moment.
Yeah, the old ball park is the best common ground I know of. We’d get a lot more done if we could all meet there every once in a while, to just stop and focus on the moment and fully consider all aspects of the important issues at hand — as the pitch is made.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.