I love this story.
Someone once asked Bono (who has raised millions of dollars to fight AIDS & other diseases in Africa) how he can work with so many super conservative U.S. Senators? How does he get them to donate so much money to his foundation when some of them believe AIDS is a disease sent by God to plague “sinners”?
In response he said he does it by always remembering story about MLK Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. When Bobby Kennedy was appointed Attorney General, many of the people in MLK’s inner circle were dismayed. They said he would set civil rights back 50 years, they listed all the reasons he was awful for their cause, all the things they disliked about him, and on and on. Dr. King stopped the meeting at this point and said (and I paraphrase), “This meeting is over. I want you to go home and not come back until you find something we have in common with Bobby Kennedy. That will be our way in.” They did, and of course Bobby Kennedy was a civil rights champion.
Bono says he does the same thing. He finds one thing – no matter how small – that he has in common with those Senators, and starts there. He finds common ground.
It’s easy to forget to do this. I certainly have on more than many occasions. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own righteousness on an issue and approach others who disagree with disdain, with insults, with an attack. You may get to vent, but you’re not going to get anyone to listen or support you that way.
I have a few on line friends with some very strong views on controversial issues. And though I can respect and often even agree with their views, I disagree with their methods. They come across as angry and fanatical in their posts & comments. They accuse and toss around words that, once said, cannot ever be taken back. And they expect those they are attacking to “see the light” and change their views?
When I suggest a more diplomatic approach, I’m told they won’t sugar-coat things or speak sweetly just to keep a person (the person they are accusing) from being uncomfortable. My feeling is that empathy to someone’s position is a much better way to get them to listen to yours in return. If a person is attacked they don’t think, they react; they fight, they run, they cling that much harder to the belief about which you disagree.
To illustrate: If Bono went in to those Senators and preached at them about their ignorance in thinking AIDS was sent by God, how much money do you think he would raise? If he called them names, said they were heartless – maybe even accomplices to mass murder – do you think they would listen?
Of course they wouldn’t.
So when you want someone with whom you fundamentally disagree to hear you – and to maybe even, eventually, support your position – remember what Bono would do, and think of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.
A lot can happen when you start from common ground.