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“Is Healthcare a Right? A Privilege? Or Something in Between?

Please join us for our next Common Ground Nashville meeting on May 3 which will focus on Healthcare in America. While there are many aspects of healthcare to discuss, we decided to focus on the question of “What model of healthcare would you favor for you, your family, and the country?”  Employer-based healthcare? Obamacare? Single-payer healthcare or “Medicare for All”?

This month’s topic will engage us in discussing values related to individual liberty vs. the common good while giving us another chance to practice active listening and respect for others’ views.

To facilitate a rigorous and factual conversation, we ask that you prepare by reading the following articles related to single-payer healthcare.


Guns in America

At our March 1st and April 5th meetings, we discussed the especially (but always) timely issue of “Guns in America.”


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In our March 1st meeting, we split into three groups and listened to each other’s perspectives. We learned about our own personal relationships with guns and those of others, the issues driving the gun debate, and our latest feelings about schools and guns. As a diverse group, we found some common ground: we all acknowledged that this is a real problem in America and, in taking an even broader view, we reflected on the role of violence in general in our society. Many of us left that session with alternative sources of information, some clarifying understandings, glimpses into other viewpoints, and more questions related to: “So What’s Next?”

What was next (at our April meeting) was becoming more informed on other ways to get information or, more importantly–take action. With representatives from three local but very different organizations focused on this issue, we learned about alternative beliefs and solutions offered within our community. We then broke into groups and discussed these perspectives among ourselves.

Before our first meeting, we prepared by reading the following two articles. The third article provides data, information, and next steps for personal involvement and action around this issue:

  1. Article 1 (Information): NYtimes on Gun Inaction
  2. Article 2 (Information): National Review Against Gun Policies
  3. Article 3 (for ACTION): The Safe Tennessee Project

At our second meeting, we met with the following local representatives:

Captain Harmon Hunsicker,
Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD)

Kathleen Chandler Wright,
Moms Demand Action (MDA)

Barbara Holland & Natalie Chantal,
TN Firearms

Reflecting on our two discussions using exit slips, many of our members said that even with two meetings, they still wanted more time to educate themselves and discuss the issue. One member wanted more discussion specifically on “court rulings related to guns and types of guns,” and many commented on the importance of educating themselves and others with data related to gun violence.

Nevertheless, some reported that they’d already learned something new. After our first meeting, many participants said they left with a better understanding of how mental health needs contribute to shootings. One person commented that her discussion “helped me see the bigger issue of guns, not just as they related to school shootings, and how that needs to be kept in mind.” After our second meeting, one participant said that MNPD had taught them that “gun violence is concentrated in several areas and in the hands of a relatively limited number of individuals.” Another was intrigued by hearing the perspective that “a computer is a more effective tool to overthrow the government than a gun.” And in response to the MDA presentation, one member said they realized how important is was to let “gun owners know that we do not want to ‘kill the Second Amendment.'”

Keith A. Caruso MD, one of our participants, also created this document to answer questions from our sessions about Pschotropic Medication.

Overall, this was an extremely divisive issue with passions on both sides. Even when participants ultimately agreed, “many… had similar views, but different ways of coming to the same conclusion.” Many members also commented on how difficult it was to give everyone time to speak and control “filibustering in small groups.” Therefore, in the future, we will try harder to remind participants “of the ground rules and sticking to them.”

Real News or Really ? News

We shared the nexus of Common Ground before. It’s always been about promoting a civil dialogue between persons of different views and opinions. That task has always been challenging, but it’s even more problematic in our current atmosphere of information inundation from non-stop media.

The sources of that media – whether print, television, radio, or social – are seemingly not subject to the constraints of facts or fairness.   The fairness part may have always been true, but opinions were labeled as such. Now “fake news” is real and may be a term that doesn’t require quotes.

Ours is a polarized world and no faction has real cause to complain about media fairness. On all sides of the political, social, and theological spectrums, “facts” and statements are quoted without context, and extreme opinions are presented as definitively valid.

So our conversation for November will focus on the media. Questions might include:

  • What should be their responsibilities and how do we hold them accountable?
  • How do we identify “fake” or for that matter real news?
  • What is our responsibility to assess media input with an open mind? Do we sometimes close ourselves to information because it doesn’t fit into our own set of values or beliefs?

These and other questions should form the basis for an intriguing conversation.

Please join us to find Common Ground.


Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Many of you have heard the story – maybe even a few times – about how Sandy and I began working on what now has become Common Ground. The idea was to begin, in very small steps, to promote conversations that would eventually lead to civil conversations about controversial issues impacting all of our lives.   This was not a knee-jerk reaction to the election results. In fact, the idea began before the votes were counted.

Common Ground is off to a good start. We have had some meaningful conversations. We’ve shared our stories, and we’ve begun to uncover some of the things that make us tick. But, candidly, it’s been mostly a one-sided conversation so far. The folks who have come together have been diverse in sex, race, religion, age, occupation, and so on. What has not been well represented, so far, is diversity in political philosophy.   It’s been a fairly progressive group. So, why is that? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s not a simple answer.

I’ve had friends state that they’re just not interested in attending because they fear it will be one-sided rant against Trump or the GOP-led Congress. Some, I fear, are just unable to believe that there can be an even-handed exchange of ideas that won’t devolve into an argument.   And, candidly, it’s not an unreasonable fear given what’s modeled in the public space every day.

We’re all inundated with information – television network and cable news, local, national and satellite radio, podcasts, social media, print (yes, it still exists), and entertainment programs. What’s real and what’s “fake”? Is it really possible to be completely sure anymore? Discerning reality is not so black and white.   From the beginning, the intent of Common Ground has been to promote dialogue where two people can discuss their own perspectives of what is real. And, perhaps most importantly, describe how that reality impacts their worldview.

So I would love to encourage each of you to come to Common Ground. Let me also encourage all of you to invite someone who may see the world a little differently than you do. We all have friends who voted differently than we did. We respect people who have a different vision of the path forward for out country and the world. Contrary to what I tell Sandy, I’m not always right. My worldview is always enhanced by intelligent conversation with others – especially those who disagree with me. Let’s continue the conversations that will let us go forward together.

Business as Usual? The First 100 Days

As the 45th president completes his first 100 days, America curiously looks and feels very much like it did on January 19.   It’s likely that the highest hopes and the worst fears have not become real.  In some respects, that may be a positive.

But it’s been a frenetic three months.

We’ve witnessed large and enthusiastic marches by women and scientists in protest of positions and actions of the president and his administration.  Some executive orders were enacted and the nation’s courts struck some down.  Repeal and replacement of Obamacare failed – for now.  A new Supreme Court justice was nominated and confirmed.  And a government shutdown looms due to Congressional gridlock.

Business as usual – right?  Sadly, yes.

It is business as usual in the sense that there was no violent revolt in response to the election.  America did not become a Banana Republic.  The vast government bureaucracy performs its functions with some relatively minor changes.  The private sector is open for business providing goods and services throughout the country.

But it’s also business as usual with a growing chasm between the haves and have nots – the hopeful and the hopeless.

And, it’s business as usual with ideological and political differences exacerbated by media fueled social and political vitriol.

And, it’s business as usual with no respectful dialogue about addressing the many issues facing our nation.  If our leaders can’t find ways civilly address their disagreements, they certainly can’t model the needed behaviors for the rest of us.

You may notice that this is not necessarily a call to activism, but it is a call to action.  Passionate advocates espouse causes that speak to them, but, activism can be also be polarizing.  It creates a call to action, but those calls can be, and should be, controversial.  The real challenge, as I see it, is creating the lost middle ground.  It’s reclaiming the space where good people with good intentions can meet to resolve different positions on serious issues.

So friends it’s up to us.  We need to seek out those who we respect.  We need to seek out those with whom we disagree and find paths to mutual respect.  We need to not be afraid to carefully listen to the opinions of others in hopes of finding a common ground.  We all have our carefully considered and closely held beliefs.   Please consider that others may have their own.

Don’t take too much solace in the fact that Trump hasn’t broken the country or too much relief in that damned Obama being gone forever.  We are all facing the same problems.  We just might have different ideas about how to solve them.

— Steve Smith