What the Heck is Bridge-Building?

Recently, I was asked to clarify what, exactly, I mean by “bridge-building.”  Does it mean being open to dialogue with anyone, at any time, about any issue?  Does bridge-building mean not taking a hard political or spiritual stance on anything and always being open to considering someone else’s wisdom/experience?  Does it simply mean an ability to tolerate someone with a different opinion?

It is a great question that forced me to reflect on what I think it means to be someone who builds bridges. After some reflection, I came up with my five primary criteria for building bridges:

1)     The ability for two people to dialogue.  It is absolutely impossible to build bridges with someone who is unable to dialogue; someone who believes their answer is the only answer.  While I love to build bridges when and where I can, if I encounter a person that expresses their opinion with moral certitude, I know that person has no interest or openness to learning more about my experience.

2)     Some commonality/common interest.  Even if someone is open to dialogue, I find it nearly impossible to begin a dialogue with someone I have absolutely nothing in common with.  Whether another person has children the same age as mine or whether the person grew up near where I did, these commonalities or common interests always remind me that the person I am dialoguing with is just that; another person who probably experiences many of the same joys and struggles I do.

3)     A special interest or passion for the same issue.  Just like needing someone else to have some kind of common interest with me, it is equally important for the person to have some special interest or passion about an issue we are dialoguing about.  It would be impossible for me to engage in a dialogue with someone about traffic cameras, when I have very little interest in that particular issue.  My interests/passions are different and this would make for a very futile, if not boring, dialogue.

4)     A debatable issue.  An issue is simply not debatable if someone is advocating for a position that violates basic human rights.  It is impossible to find common ground on racism or sexual harassment/assault. Both our U.S. Constitution and most of the world’s major religions would agree that racism and sexually inappropriateness behavior – and other issues that violate basic human rights – should always be called out and exposed for what they are: dehumanizing and unacceptable in any form.

5)     Common decency.  Even if I wholeheartedly disagree with someone else, I have never found a disagreement with another person to ever be a good enough excuse for verbally degrading them, name-calling or publicly enemy-bashing. Life is often difficult enough without putting negative energy into the world.  I find it less stressful to just be kind – even if it is not reciprocated.

Wishing you a peace-filled, blessed and bridge-building Christmas,


The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry.  Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking. To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.