Finding common ground

Jeff vonKaenel

Three weeks ago, when I wrote a column praising Bank of America for its local nonprofit giving, I knew I would hear complaints. And I did. How could I give a shout-out to Bank of America given the role of big banks in our country’s financial meltdown? Did I not know that this charitable donation was minuscule compared to the bank’s giant size?

Well, I’m glad you asked these questions. When individuals and organizations have major philosophical or political differences with others, can they still find a way to work together? As I watch the Congressional Republicans kill President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, as I watch the unwillingness of the Sacramento City Council members and the mayor to work together, as I see the total gridlock in the state Legislature, I see how this issue typically plays out.

When I was growing up, I believed in good and evil. Scary monsters vs. my wonderful family. Bullies vs. good kids. President Richard Nixon vs. the antiwar protesters. The evil overpaid New York Yankees vs. my beloved Cleveland Indians. The world was black-and-white and simple to understand.

After college, during the 1970s, I was attending a party at my professor Dick Flack’s place. Dick was a brilliant academic who studied social movements and was a wonderful person. I was happy to be invited. When I arrived, his wife, Mickey, offered me a glass of Gallo wine. I was surprised and shocked.

The United Farm Workers had led a boycott on Gallo wine, protesting Gallo’s horrible labor practices. They had recently settled the strike. I asked Mickey why they were serving Gallo so soon after the boycott. She patiently explained to me that it was really important for Gallo to see an increase in sales after they settled the strike. I got her point. And I happily became inebriated for the revolution.

I’ve come to believe that, to accomplish anything, you have to find common ground. You work with people in the areas where you can agree, even when you may not be able to agree with them on everything.

So, even though I disagree vehemently with the Catholic Church on abortion and gay rights, I am happy to work with them on poverty issues. Even though I am disappointed by how Walmart treats its employees, I admire its forward thinking on environmental issues. Even though I believe we must have major financial reforms, I also appreciate when the banks donate generously to our community.

That’s why I believed that Bank of America deserved praise for donating almost $500,000 to the Sacramento community. If we want change, then organizations and individuals will have to cross the aisle or reach across the table to make change happen.

Dick and Mickey, I’d like to thank you for helping me understand the importance of finding common ground.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.