We Welcome you to
Finding Common Ground
Materials to explore spiritual concepts with a diverse population
We invite you to begin an amazing journey. It is a journey for the cautious and the bold, the young and the old and all who are in between.
We all know that we are firmly rooted in the ground that is our material world, and yet we wish to explore the concepts of existence that go beyond these material needs and actually matter far more than our daily life. This exploration is a “spiritual conversation”. Finding Common Ground provides an organized way to travel this road. It has sessions on various intriguing topics that can be discussed inoffensively by a group of individuals from diverse religious backgrounds (and no religious background at all). The attitude taken by this book is one of learning from one another without judging, and in doing so although we may not agree on everything, we can not only agree to disagree but might well find a large amount of common ground.
Questions & Answers about
the Finding Common Ground Materials
In our society there is a need for spiritual conversations. In the past this need was often met in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques – that is, within the context of formal religion — but for many people formal religion is neither effective nor necessarily desired. Whether or not it takes place within a religious context, this sort of dialogue is spiritually enriching and helpful to all concerned.
Our working definition of a spiritual conversation is “a conversation about something that is important to its participants, where spiritual and ethical principles are used to set the context”. The spiritual and ethical principles can be explicitly religious, but need not be.
One barrier is that spiritual conversations aren’t something that most people regularly practice – in other words, most of us simply don’t know how.
Another barrier involves religion: there are misunderstandings among people of different faiths, and misunderstandings between people with and without religious faith. Among these misunderstandings are that people of different faiths find different holy books to be authoritative. People of no religious faith don’t consider the holy books to be authoritative, and instead rely on science and logic.
And this isn’t even to mention that people don’t necessarily understand science, and that people of no religious faith might have some inaccurate ideas about religion, and that people of religious faith might have some incorrect ideas about their own religion and the religion of others.
- Finding Common Ground explicitly describes the goals of spiritual conversations
- Finding Common Ground is explicit (and hopefully realistic) in its assumptions about its participants
- Finding Common Ground begins with the common ground held by initiator of the spiritual conversation and its other participants
Finding Common Ground does not assume that the participants in a spiritual conversation are seeking religious enlightenment. Finding Common Ground does assume that, if the construct of a “spiritual topic” is defined sufficiently broadly, every participant will be interested in holding spiritual conversations.
What are the goals of Finding Common Ground? The goals of Finding Common Ground include empowering its participants to be able to identify spiritual principles, to discuss them, and to apply them to their lives. Of note, its goals do not include anything—directly or indirectly—that encourages its participants to join any particular religion (or, indeed, any formal religion at all). This facilitates conceptual clarity, and allows everyone to focus on the task at hand without distraction.
Finding Common Ground takes as its initial common ground The Golden Rule—even if people differ on how well it can realistically be practiced, and precisely how it should be practiced, and how society should be organized to facilitate its practice, everyone agrees that they would like others to treat them in accordance with that rule. The Golden Rule is also grounded in science—one of the lessons describes its role in the social evolution of humankind. The Golden Rule is also the spiritual basis of all religions. Interestingly, then, one of the first insights that participants might gain is that one thing about which everyone agrees is the spiritual basis of religion.
In short: the way we propose to overcome the above barriers is to start with something that’s important and that everyone agrees about, and then organize spiritual conversations around that.
The topics should primarily be based on the interests of your target audience. For example, some topics that might be proposed to an intellectual target audience include:
- Unity of humankind
- The Golden Rule
- Is God dead? Belief in an age of cynicism
- The creative spirit and the arts
- Understanding current events: is the world going to Hell?
The Golden Rule
Make thine own self the measure of the others, and so abstain from causing hurt to them.
Love thy neighbor as thyself
Do not to others what ye do not wish done to yourself; and wish for others too what ye desire and long for, for yourself.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.
Starting a “Finding Common Ground Group”
We welcome you to start your own Finding Common Ground group with your neighbors, friends, or classmates.
Once you have become familiar with Finding Common Ground and wish to try teaching it as a class, it is important to know that the teacher is simply one who guides the group, acting more as a tutor to those who are in the group rather than the traditional role of a professor who instructs a class. The concept is accompaniment on the spiritual path. It involves much more listening than speaking. It involves more questions than answers.
The mode is an attitude of learning, with no individuals dominating the class. It is facilitation of communication and most importantly finding the common thread of love that unites the group.
A module is a series of conversations tailored to a particular group (or audience). The conversations are termed sessions, and a session could either be completed in a single meeting or extend across multiple meetings. The conversations might or might not result in subsequent action by the group (for example, a service project).
Who Created Finding Common Ground?
Donna and Greg Samsa, both from North Carolina, USA, are married forty years and have five children. Both have ten plus years teaching weekly children’s classes in their Triangle Cluster Baha’i community, and serve on their Orange County Bahai Assembly.
Donna, BA currently runs a home building and remodeling business, and has interests in agriculture, and in virtues education for children. She has an ongoing friendship with the local hispanic community.
Greg Samsa PhD has an ongoing interest in problem solving and principled negotiation. Perhaps the experience most relevant to the content of this website was in co-facilitating race unity dialogues with Dr. Richard Beane. Professionally, Greg is a professor at Duke University, where he directs the office overseeing research integrity and conflict of interest in research.
Feel free to contact Us with questions, concerns, or module ideas
Donna & Greg Samsa