In a recent post on her blog Sheila Kennedy asks in the title the question, “Common ground? With whom?” It is a good question.

Is it possible to establish some sort of meeting ground with all people no matter how far apart our views may be? Is it even always desirable to find a place where we can agree to put aside our differences and live together in shared space? Are there worldviews that are just so incompatible that there can never be any meeting of minds and it is only responsible to call out the errors of the opposition and separate ourselves from our opponent?

Kennedy suggests that for most of her professional life, she believed it should be possible for people with radically different views to find common ground and engage in meaningful conversation in spite of their differences. But she has changed her mind.

Kennedy now believes that there are people whose opinions are so far beyond the parameter of acceptable human constructs that

seeking “common ground” with such people is suicidal.

Kennedy argues that there are times when the rosy “common ground” stance simply cannot hold. There are situations in which it is too simplistic and, even, dangerous to argue that we all

need to work on understanding each other. Those of us to the left of the reactionary right need to be more generous in our appraisals of those with whom we disagree. We need to find a common ground from which we can build productive dialogue.

There may be times, Kennedy suggests, when one side is simply wrong and must be opposed. Of course, in order to bolster her position Kennedy is forced to resort to the most popular historical example used to win almost any debate on any social issue. She argues that the fact that most Germans were silent in the face of the rise of Nazism, proves that there are times when it is essential to speak against opinions so abhorrent and unjust that they must be denounced by every civilized human being.

The problem of course is that we do not live today in Nazi Germany. Most of us will never be guilty of not speaking out against the gas chambers and crematoria we know are carrying on their evil work in our back yard.

It is not always equally evident to everyone that a particular situation must be denounced as an obviously evil injustice. It is a thin line between wrong-headed fuzzy thinking and undeniable evil. It takes a long time to get to the obviously evil end of the spectrum. The ranges of grey between innocence and blatant evil make the journey to truth-telling uncertain and at times confusing.

Life is complex. Increasingly, the issues we are forced to confront are not cut and dry and the evidence in the moment is often less definitive than it becomes in hindsight. In Germany in the 1930s, without knowledge of the impending holocaust, it was not immediately obvious, even to good well-meaning citizens, that denouncing Nazism was the only, or even the wisest. choice in the situation.

In the Netflix TV series “Sweet Tooth” Dr. Aditya Singh is forced to face the uncomfortable choice between butchering “hybrids” to develop a vaccine against the deadly pandemic ravaging the world and thus save millions of people, or stand by his scruples and allow the pandemic to continue to rage.

Sometimes, the only choices in life are not between two goods but between two bads and the only option is to try to make the least bad choice with the best knowledge available.