Common ground: Congress pledges to work collaboratively

Before members of Congress can seek common ground, there must be balance within the respective parties and willingness to compromise. Photo: Nancy Pelosi (AP)

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2013 — How will Congress find common ground in negotiating a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government without increasing the deficit or cutting services or entitlements that have grown exponentially? For some Republicans and Tea Party members, Affordable Health Care is the largest entitlement and the largest point of contention.

Before members of Congress can seek common ground, there must be balance within the respective parties and willingness to compromise.  As of now, there may be few willing to meet across the isle.

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In commenting on his decision to vote to end Shutdown 2013, Representative Charles Dent said: “This legislation tonight needed to be supported but should not be celebrated; there should be no victory laps or spiking the football.”  

Critics say that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has worked to silence dissenting fiscally conservative Democrats.  As such, no Democrat has publically expressed an opinion that differs from the  party line on funding the Affordable Health Care Act without fear of retribution or retaliation.  Who could forget Pelosi’s infamous dictate to fellow representatives,  “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” 

For Republicans, the Tea Party is the equivalent of Pelosi, albeit without the single point person identified to keep party members in line.

When mediators assist leaders from opposing groups to find common ground, it is often unresolved intra-group conflict that can limit group leaders from negotiating in good faith. The infighting among Republicans may win Democrats additional Congressional seats in 2014 but will do little to avoid a “Big Ole Mess” on January 15th when the CR must be passed.  If a deal is not reached, the country risks going into default status again next year. 

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And the cycle would continue.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela used the term “Ubuntu,” pronounced “oo-Buun-too,” a Nguni Bantu word referring to an African philosophy that calls for human kindness and describes the importance of forgiveness in order to help one another and work together.  

Activating Ubuntu is key to finding common ground, whether the conflict is a couple fighting over buying a family car or Congress debating the CR and Affordable Care Act.

In Congress, with multiple subgroups on the Republican side and a zero tolerance for dissent on the Democratic side, the goal would be to permit independent thinking and decision making to find the best way to solve this country’s problems.  If representing the best interest of the country is important, they will put aside partisan politics. 

On reflecting upon what “Ubuntu” means at the 2006 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton warned against “winning fleeting victories at other people’s expense”, continuing with “we now have to find a way to triumph together.”

Perhaps there is a lesson for Congress in what President Clinton said. 

“I am because you are” is the literal translation of  “Ubuntu,” which calls upon all of us to move beyond our differences and be helpful to one another. 

How is America supposed to tell other countries how to behave, when we ourselves can’t get along?

The world is watching.

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Millicent Carvalho-Grevious

Dr. Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, is the founder and principal of Pennsylvania Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services, Inc. She has mediated conflicts for over 30 years, providing services in a variety of venues for private and public entities, including the United States Postal Service, the Office of Dispute Resolution of the Department of Education, and the office of Employer Support for the National Guard and Reserve. She was one of 14 conflict resolution experts from 11 nations invited to Chongqing, China in 2009 to participate in a forum titled, “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.” Previously, she served as Director/Program Chair of Urban Studies and Community at LaSalle University, Associate Professor and Chair of Department of Social Work at Virginia Union University and Associate Professor and Social Work Department Chair at Delaware State University. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Social Work and Master of Law and Social Policy degrees at Bryn Mawr College and Master of Education (Counselor Education) at Boston University and Bachelor of Arts at LaSalle University.

Contact Millicent Carvalho-Grevious


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