With so many divisions in the world -- political, religious, nationalistic, plus many others -- sometimes it seems like there's nothing all of us can agree on.
I suggest this as a foundation for finding common ground: life is difficult.
Not all of the time. Much of the time. And for some, most of the time. The degree of difficulty varies for each person, sort of akin to a gymnastics routine where a score is based in part on the degree of difficulty of the various moves.
Yet no matter who we are or what circumstances we find ourselves in, it's virtually certain that life poses challenges for us. Heck, even a billionaire has to worry about how to spend their money.
Along with many other worries that are common to everyone, rich and poor alike.
How to deal with health problems. Maintaining relationships with other people, romantic or otherwise. Raising children. Keeping up with the demands of a job or profession. Helping others to the best of our ability.
Sure, these aspects of life bring satisfactions along with problems. However, I doubt that anyone can go an entire day without feeling about something, "I wish this wasn't so difficult."
Even if somehow our own day has been going absolutely perfectly, likely we'll learn about difficulties being faced by others that make us feel the same thing: "I wish this wasn't so difficult...for them."
Recently a woman I know was driving along when someone hit her car on the driver's side door. Police had to pry the door open. She broke her collarbone in the accident. She needed to spend two days in the hospital. She's 86 years old.
Now she has to deal with a difficult recovery period.
She lives by herself, so will need help. My wife and I, along with her other friends and relatives, will do what we can. It's just so unfortunate that the woman, who walked two miles a day and exercised in other ways to stay fit, had her life changed because of an uncareful driver.
I used to believe there was a way out of life's difficulties.
Buddhism typically refers to this as "Life is suffering." The Four Noble Truths are supposed to be a roadmap for ending suffering. Meaning, we still have difficulties, like dealing with a broken bone, but they don't bother us much or at all. We accept them in a tranquil fashion.
Maybe this is possible. I don't know. I'm just not aware of anyone who has been capable of looking upon life's difficulties with a Buddha-like detachment that enables them to enjoy an equipoise no matter what happens.
I see this as a good thing.
It points to our common humanity, that universal desire to relieve both our own distress and that of others. Yes, universal, because even the worst psychopath cares about their own wellbeing, even if they are indifferent to the suffering of other people.
There's national political figures who I heartily dislike from afar. Donald Trump. Ted Cruz. Mitch McConnell. Tucker Carlson. When I hear them speak, my mind rejects what they're saying.
Yet... I'm confident that if I were to sit down with them and have a candid conversation about the difficulties in their lives, I'd feel much differently about them. I'd realize that underneath their right-wing bravado lies a person who, like all of us, struggles with tough personal issues.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to understand someone else's difficulties.
Most of us are reluctant to be open and transparent with anyone but our most intimate companions about what we have to deal with. We put on a brave face to the world when a clerk asks "How's your day going?" and we reply "Great, just great," even though that isn't true.
But I've found that when I'm more honest in my response, saying something like "Not so good; the pain in my leg from sciatica is worse today," often I'll get an honest statement from a perfect stranger. "Sorry to hear that. My back has been giving me problems. Pain sucks."
There's an old saying, misery likes company. I've come to see this not as reflecting a desire that we want other people to be as miserable as we are, but as the human compulsion to share our troubles with others, as they share their troubles with us.
We are a highly social species. It feels good when we're able to communicate our difficulties, even if no one is able to help us with them. Often what we need most is a compassionate ear, not a helping hand.