How Can We Create Common Ground in our Polarized Society?

We live in a polarized and fragmented world. Modern society is facing a crisis of meaning and connection -- an inability to work together to create a shared sense of what is good, meaningful and worthwhile in life. Our democratic traditions are threatened by tribalism and intergroup conflict. Politics and the media foster division and moral outrage. We find ourselves cut off from each other at work, at home and in our communities.

We can and must do better.

Creating Common Ground is a forum that invites people to create novel solutions to divisive social issues. It provides people with the knowledge and tools needed to do so -- free of charge.

Common Ground is Created -- Not Found

We are often told to "find common ground" between people. This makes it sound as though "common ground" already exists -- and all we have to do is find it. Sometimes common ways of thinking already exist between adversaries. But for most important disputes, common ground is something that has to be actively made -- it must be invented. To resolve a dispute or problem, it is typically necessary to develop new solutions -- solutions that do not yet exist -- solutions that no one has thought of yet.

In a dispute between people, solutions can rarely be solved by only one party. The best solutions to problems tend to be those that neither partner could have created alone. That's why we have to collaborate with our adversaries. We need to understand not only what our "opponents" think, but the needs, interests and fears that make our opponents thing the way they do. The best solutions are those that meet the needs and interests of all parties to a conflict.

This is true in interpersonal relationships, political disputes, conflicts within an between organizations, and even conflicts between nations, cultures and various identity groups,

What We Do, and What We Want to Do with You

Articles. We publish articles that explore how to solve real social problems. We seek and publish articles that propose genuine ways to bridge divides on contentious issues -- that is, articles that create common ground. We do not publish articles that argue on side of an issue over the other or partisan attacks on "the other side". We do not seek or publish articles that merely "split the difference" between opposing sides. We are interested in building new solutions to trenchant problems -- solutions that hold out the promise of bringing people together rather than keeping them apart. We are also interested in articles that seek ways to develop a New Ethos for the 21st Century. Click here to learn more about the need to fill the crisis of meaning that pervades our social worlds.

This does not mean, however, that we seek to avoid controversy. We realize that novel solutions to trenchant problems can often cause discord on both sides of an issue. We are not naive. We have no expectations that the process toward creating common ground is always pleasant. We have no delusions that creating common ground involves sitting around and singing kumbaya. No -- it's hard work that takes time, effort, failure and incremental success. Press here to view our latest articles. Press here to learn about how to submit an article to Creating Common Ground.

Real People Solving Problems. We publish videos and podcasts of actual people seeking to solve actual problems using principles and practices of conflict management, collaborative problem-solving, and dialectical problem-solving. Press here to learn more about these forms of shared problem-solving.

Learn to Create Common Ground. We want to help others learn to create common ground. Toward this end, we offer free, online instruction on how to engage in collaborative and dialectical problem solving to bridge divides in interpersonal, social, and political contexts. Press here to learn more about tools for Creating Common Ground.

Who We Are

Michael F. Mascolo is Professor of Psychology at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. He is the Academic Director of the Compass Program at Merrimack College, an intensive, year-long academic and socio-emotional immersion program for first-year college students. Dr. Mascolo received his PhD at the University at Albany -- SUNY and performed postdoctoral work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the author or editor of five books. These include The Handbook of Integrative Developmental Science (2020, edited with Thomas Bidell, Routledge/Taylor & Francis), 8 Keys to Old School Parenting for Modern Families (2015, Norton), Psychotherapy as a Developmental Process (2010, with Michael Basseches, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, Culture and Developing Selves (2004, edited with Jin Li, Jossey-Bass), and What Develops in Emotional Development? (1998, edited with Sharon Griffin, Plenum). He is also author of over 80 articles, book chapters and reviews on topics related to human development. You can read his Psychology Today blog at Values Matter. He is also a life coach on issue related to conflict management, parenting, teaching and personal development. To view his personal website, press here.

Gregg Henriques is Professor of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University and a core faculty member in the Combined Integrated Clinical and School Program, which he directed from 2005-2017. Dr. Henriques received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Vermont and did his post-doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Dr. Aaron T. Beck. Dr. Henriques’ primary area of scholarly interest is in developing a Unified Framework for the science and practice of psychology. He has authored the book, A New Unified Theory of Psychology. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, won numerous awards for teaching and service, and has published dozens of articles in leading academic journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Psychologist, and Review of General Psychology. He has a popular blog on Psychology Today, Theory of Knowledge, where he has authored over 350 essays on psychology, philosophy, politics, and mental health. He launched and leads the Theory of Knowledge academic society. He teaches doctoral courses on psychotherapy integration, personality theory, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and engages in clinical supervision. He also studies character and well-being and is working to develop a more unified approach to psychotherapy. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia. For more information about him, see his homepage.