Bridging Differences

A shout-out to Creative Commons for their images used in this piece. I like the bridging process depicted above because both builders arrive on the scene carrying quite a burden. They have shown up to the job site with their stuff. The assumption is that the stuff they bring is useful and even necessary to building the bridge. What if the stuff they bring is neither of those things? Can the bridge still be built? Yes – it can! It just takes a little longer and a bit more planning and thought. Likewise, when bridging differences of opinion, belief, priority, etc., the stuff we bring to the task may be useful and necessary, and some of it may need to be modified or perhaps put aside all together. So, it’s no small wonder that when we come to bridge our differences with others, we must first become aware of the stuff that we bring to the building site.

Shigeoka and Marsh (2020) of The Greater Good Science Center illustrated eight key elements aggregated from the collective research concerning bridging differences among people. Following is a paraphrase of those elements:

  1. Recognition of common humanity
  2. Prioritizing understanding over persuasion
  3. Honoring (perhaps even discovering) your beliefs and values
  4. Conducting reflection and inner work
  5. Developing and expressing modesty and humility
  6. Making small shifts in thought and/or behavior over time
  7. Bridging differences requires risk
  8. Not everyone is a bridge builder

Let’s take a closer look.


Recognition of our common humanity stems from honoring the reality of one another’s right to their thoughts, beliefs, customs, needs, values, and goals. Simply being heard is enough to quell many differences in relationships, so long as we prioritize understanding over persuasion. We must listen to ourselves and others to understand, putting aside the urge to go to the counterpoint position. Genuine questions must take precedence over seeking out points to counter. Holding back our reactions to argue our point takes patience, modesty, and humility. 

This simple act of questioning and discovery creates significant influence on the process of discovering, honoring, reflecting, and expressing our own beliefs and values about a thing. These conscious acts of inner reflection and refraining from emotional argumentation allow us to hear and understand what others think and feel, why they think and feel as they do; and informs the very same in ourselves. Perhaps the greatest gift of this process is to us. As we create a little distance from our own hot buttons, we experience calm, peace, clear-headedness, and a greater ability to express ourselves when it comes our time to share. 

This all sounds like a lovely experience, but bridging differences is not for the faint of heart. There is considerable risk involved. Not only do we risk the pains of confrontation, becoming upset over differences, reactions to one another’s shortcomings in communication, etc., we also risk facing the potential fallacies in our own beliefs and opinions. Willingness to change is an essential component when we come to bridge differences with others. Few changes are instantaneous, and trust takes time. When we come to bridge differences of greatest significance to us, we must be prepared to make small shifts in thought and/or behavior over time. 


Disappointment is a reality of life, and we must also be prepared to compromise our expectations in the process of bridging differences. To everything there is a season (King James Bible 1769/2008, Ecclesiastes 3.1), and it simply may not be time for those with whom we differ, to undertake this work. Likewise, we must continually evaluate our own readiness, and recognize when our lack of preparedness is harming rather than helping the interaction and process. It can be painful when we or others are not ready for bridging differences. Even in the best of circumstances, it can be a messy process. Wise persons will work to manage their expectations while looking for clear signs of progress. Some bridges may never be built, and we must make our peace with that. As we practice forgiveness, we find points of agreement, characteristics to admire, and ways to honor ourselves and others without creating greater division. If you find you have a few moments, meet me on the bridge. I’ll be there!




King James Version Bible (2008). OxfordUniversity Press. (Original work published 1769). 

Shigeoka, S. & Marsh, J. (7.22.2020). Eight keys to bridging our differences. Greater Good Magazine. Greater Good Science Center. University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, Ca.

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