Frederick Golder on Common Ground instead of Polarization


Frederick Golder responded to our call for discussion comments with a description of the book he wrote, Reaching Common Ground: A Comprehensive Guide to Conflict Resolution which addresses the causes of polarization and what can be done to overcome it to reach common ground. I asked if he would be willing to write a discussion post based on the book, and he sent the following, together with several reviews of the book, which we have included in the longer book summary which appears in our book summary section of BI


by Frederick Golder

My book, Reaching Common Ground, is the culmination of more than twenty-five years of teaching and practicing conflict resolution and problem-solving and six years of research. I wanted to understand the reasons for the polarization. I looked at genetics, biology, evolution, psychology, emotion, motivation, and personality to understand the underlying reasons for the lack of civility, labeling, and name-calling used to stifle different viewpoints and why people were being verbally and sometimes physically attacked for expressing different ideas.

We have become more adversarial and confrontational, with consequences not only in our ability to solve problems but also in our personal relationships. Today’s most contentious issues are framed as us-versus-them identity-based conflicts: men against women, blacks against whites, citizens against immigrants, and liberals against conservatives.   

Our behavior is driven by a combination of factors. Each of us has a unique mental filtering system, which provides our perspective on the world. This system consists of our genetic makeup and personality (nature) and is expanded by our life experiences (nurture). Even though our genes, environment, and personality predispose us to certain behaviors, we have the ability to alter our behavior in a positive direction and make conscious decisions despite our programming. We grow up in families, communities, and within a geographic location, which influence our value system and opinions. Our filtering system may include conscious and subconscious biases and prejudices. Our filtering system is so ingrained that we think everyone sees the world as we do. These differences are a significant source of conflict. We cannot change anyone’s opinions, values, ideas, attitudes, judgments, or viewpoints, but, we can understand each other better through learning conversations.  

While conflict is inevitable in human interactions, my book is an antidote to this toxic environment and explains: (1) the underlying causes of conflict; (2) how to communicate more effectively; (3) how to solve problems; and (4) how to resolve conflicts constructively, despite differences in core values, gender, race, religion, culture, national origin, age, sexual orientation, economic status, and power imbalances. When you know how to turn confrontation into constructive dialogue, problems can be solved and conflicts can be resolved, while maintaining positive relationships.