Be curious, not judgmental.

“He thinks he’s mad now, wait until we win him over.” — Ted Lasso | Photo: Courtesy of Apple TV+

At the age of 32, I learned I was adopted. When I tell people the whole story, they often say, “Oh, well, you weren’t really adopted….” But I was.

I assume every adoption story is somewhat unique, but in my case, my mother left my birth father and remarried another man who then adopted my brother and me when I was just three years old in the context of a secret affair and a messy divorce. It was difficult to assimilate as an adult, but in the end, it was better to know the truth than to harbor the suspicions that nagged at me most of my life.

When I learned this, my wife encouraged me to see a therapist, who eventually encouraged me to attend a group session for adult children of adoption. Essential reading for this group was The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. [1] The book was heralded for giving adopted children “validation for their feelings.”[2] It did indeed do that for me, and the large group session was equally compelling, hearing people talk about their feelings of abandonment and loss, even if they never knew their birth parents. While it is true that most in the group had stories of separation from a birth mother, their stories and their feelings resonated deeply with me.

At the end of the evening session, the facilitator came up to introduce himself. While he appreciated my attendance and participation, he thought I might be more comfortable with another group. His session, he explained, was really geared to adults with “mommy issues.” I was floored. I was being uninvited from a therapy group because these apparently weren’t my people.

Why do we focus so narrowly and so acutely on our differences instead of our common experience and shared pain?

* * *

As I recalled this experience recently, it got me thinking about bipartisanship — pros and cons — and all the things that stand in the way of progress and problem solving, including gerrymandering, money in politics, and the filibuster. Bipartisanship is the political third rail in my family right now. Some of us see it as a signal of empathy and respect — others see it as a sign of ideological weakness and even corruption. But we’re never going to get anywhere with the status quo of executive order whiplash and stalemates from court challenges every four years.

The filibuster is a deliberative procedure used in the United States Senate to prevent a legislative measure from advancing to a vote. Officially, the Senate rules permit a Senator, or a series of Senators, to speak for as long as they wish, and on any topic they choose, unless three-fifths of the Senators vote to bring the debate to a close, invoking the rule known as cloture.[3]

Neither written into the Constitution nor envisioned by the framers, this tactic to obstruct legislation was an unintended consequence of an 1806 rule change and was infrequently used during much of the 19th and 20th centuries.[4] Today, because the threat of filibuster by the minority is accepted as if it were an actual filibuster, it effectively requires 60 votes to pass any significant piece of legislation.

An actual filibuster could indeed go on for many weeks. But all filibusters in history have ended sometime — the longest filibuster lasted 60 days when the 1964 Civil Rights bill was held up by a group of southern Democratic Senators.[5] Sooner or later, all filibusters will fizzle and a simple majority (51 percent) can then pass the legislation.

A fundamental principle of democracy is majority rule, but along with majority rule must come respect for the minority. Despite its accidental history, the filibuster is viewed as an important symbol of the protection of the minority’s rights. But it, unfortunately, has become a blunt force instrument used to manipulate power and further distort the Senate’s basic structural imbalance — in our evenly divided Senate, the 50 Democratic Senators represent 42 million more Americans than the 50 Republicans.[6]

Today, the filibuster is a symbol of our strong tribal identities and intense competition for control of government. But as a rule that, by definition, blocks legislation from even being voted on, it clearly favors the status quo. The Senate Minority Leader has threatened gridlock if the rule is thrown out, but how is that different from what we have today? From health care and climate to immigration and trade, partisan power struggles have crowded out legitimate policy debate. We know there is common ground in these areas, if only we care to find it.

* * *

How do we find consensus, common ground, and shared purpose when our civil discourse is so toxic? According to a group that calls itself the Common Ground Committee, finding commonality provides a pathway for communication, which leads to trust. The real point of finding common ground is not to force agreement on a particular issue — it’s about a conversation that leads to understanding each other.[7]

Obviously, there are values and principles that should be non-negotiable, but fundamentally, we need to win the war of ideas. And we need to win people’s hearts without getting dragged into the theater of name-calling, gaslighting, or fear-mongering but instead reaching out to anyone who will listen to show what we believe and explain how our ideas will make a difference in people’s lives.

All of this takes optimism, and one of the most powerful symbols of optimism I’ve seen lately is Ted Lasso, the character from Apple TV+’s eponymous new series. Lasso is an American football coach who is hired to lead a struggling English Premier League football team. While he knows literally nothing about the sport he’s been hired to coach, Lasso sees the world with a determined optimism — and bemoans the local expression, “It’s the hope that kills you.”

Lasso wholeheartedly believes coaching is about making his players the best versions of themselves they can be and intentionally looks for the good in people. He, in fact, cares more about people than winning. Be curious, not judgmental. It’s about defining community and finding common cause, which in the end, turns out to be a winning strategy after all. Although it admittedly comes down to how you define winning.

* * *

[1] Verrier, Nancy Newton. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Gateway Press: 1993.

[2] http://nancyverrier.com/the-primal-wound/

[3] https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/aug/04/history-filibuster-jim-crow-relic/

[4] Walter J. Olezek, “Changing the Senate Cloture Rule at the Start of a New Congress,” at 12, Congressional Research Service, Dec. 12, 2016.

[5] https://bipartisanpolicy.org/history-of-bipartisanship/

[6] McCarthy, Tom and Alvin Chang, “Let Us Vote: ‘The Senate is broken,’” The Guardian, March 12, 2021.

[7] https://commongroundcommittee.org/finding-common-ground-isnt-about-being-nice-or-losing-values-its-about-understanding/

Imagining a better world, while trying to make sense of the one we’ve got.