It has been tough times for people who compromise.

For many people it seems much easier and simpler just to pick a side/opinion/belief and stick with it, come hell or high water. “Just do it.” “My way, or the highway.” “Get ‘er done.” “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

As I watch my two grandsons grow I am reminded how, at some point pretty early on, we all come up against the dreaded “No” word. “No” is often followed by a different option such as, “But you can play with that toy after dinner.”

While at first children probably feel that they are being held back or “lose” in such an encounter, we all soon learn that it is not always bad to do what your momma tells you. You do, after all, get to “play” after dinner just as she promised. Although unbeknownst to us at the time, we are learning to compromise. “Give a little, take a little.” “Go along to get along.” “Trade.” “Share.”

Life gets complicated quickly, however, and very soon most children learn how to tweak the system to get what they want. Kids learn how to negotiate once they find their parent’s “pressure points.” Parents find themselves bending the rules once they find that enforcing them is not always worth the effort.

Similar patterns emerge with friends, partners, and bosses. One way or another we all have to compromise to succeed.

Often the word collaborate is used to denote positive actions that are done in coordination with another party for mutual benefit. The idea here being that these transactions don’t really involve “giving up” anything, but rather just aligning efforts efficiently and effectively. Even in these cases, however, there is still an element of compromise, even if it is nothing more than having to share the limelight with someone else when the project/effort is successful.

One way or another we always have to compromise in some way if we want to be successful.

Some might argue that this does not apply to tyrants, bullies, or crime bosses who wield all the power. They don’t have to compromise.

And it is true that sometimes you can get your way without compromising. If you are in a position of power over the other party you can get away with using a version of the old mafia methodology: “Here’s the deal, you do as I say and I won’t kill you. OK?”

But for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. As in physics, this holds true for social interactions as well. Push people hard enough and they will either break or they will explode. Even if you get the other person to “break” right now, they will eventually react. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Even if the reckoning does not come until Judgment Day, every dog has his day. Or, as we used to say in the Marines, “Payback is a Mother F****r.”

In the long run, forcing your will on others is neither as effective nor as enduring as negotiating a fair compromise.

Deals vs. Compromises

Some people describe a “Good Deal” as a win/lose transaction where one party (you in this case) gets the upper hand. A “Good deal” that is not “good” for the both party’s is not a compromise. As such, it is not as permanent. The “Deal” lasts only until such time as the losing party gains enough power to reverse it.

In writing this post I pulled up the word “compromise” on my handy on-line Webster’s dictionary and found that the word implies that a “mutual promise” has been made by the parties involved.

Compromise by definition means both sides gave up something of value that the other party wanted.

Compromises also include promises on both sides. These promises, and the resulting mutual benefits for both sides, make compromises last.

The word “promise” is especially important here. A promise includes not only a commitment to uphold your end of the bargain, but also shows that you have shared ownership in the decision. You have a dog in the fight so to speak.

Contrast compromise with seemingly more powerful words such as edict, commandment, or executive order. At first blush these “take charge” actions seem to be much stronger than “compromise.” But are they as effective long term?

I submit that these more dominant approaches, basically imposing your will, ultimately fail to deliver positive outcomes. They do, however, deliver on negative outcomes.

Compromises will fail if not kept on both sides. We see the results of broken promises all around us: divorces, bankruptcies, and civil and criminal legal actions of all kinds.

Learning how to compromise is a skill worth having.

Personal Life Balance

In our personal lives we not only need to deal with our loved ones, we also need to “compromise” with ourselves. Time spent at work is time not spent with the family. Time spent with family instead of at work can result in less money to spend. We “promise” ourselves that we will exercise, save money, eat right, and at the same time commit to taking it easy. We accept lower levels of professional performance in order to have better personal relationships. We have to compromise to thrive, and sometimes just to survive.

Note: Sometimes people talk about not wanting to compromise their values. For purposes of this post I am not considering that definition of the word. Discussion of “Values” can take us in a whole other direction. For my thoughts on Values I have included the link to my previous post on that subject below.

During his keynote graduation speech at his alma mater, The University of Western Australia, comedian/entertainer Tim Minchin presented nine lessons for life. His first lesson was “You Don’t Have to Have a Dream. Minchin provides the following alternative to following your passion or life long goals:

“Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.
I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious.
Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

I share with Minchin his skepticism of dedicating everything to one’s “dreams” or “passion.” It is especially troublesome when I hear people using the phrase, “I’m not going to just settle.” The word “settle” being spoken with a great deal of distain so as to imply weakness or lack of dedication.

“How could anyone “settle” for anything less than the very best?”

And yet, I drive a 14-year-old mini-van with 175,000 miles on it with a big scrape on the right side. I have learned to compromise with myself.

Political Compromise

The current tragedy unfolding on our southern border has resulted in the U.S. Government forcibly separating young children from their parents. This is an example of the consequences of our political leaders not being willing to compromise.

As I pointed out previously in my 2017 Post titled “Immigration”(Link below) the long-term solution is sound immigration law. In that post I asked my two Democratic Senators in Washington State, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, to work across the aisle with Republican Senators. Four Republicans wrote/sponsored the bi-partisan legislation titled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. This law ensured border security, protected the jobs of US citizens, and provided a fair way to deal with people who have worked hard and contributed much to our country even though they are here illegally. Under this law violators would be punished, but in an appropriate manner. This compromise legislation passed the Senate 68-32 but then died in the House, where members were not willing to compromise. This left us with antiquated piece-meal laws that do not address the current situation nor do they meet our needs. Since then neither house has passed any legislation that helps resolve the problem.

Immigration should not be managed solely by executive orders issued by the executive branch. Without a workable public law in place, this has been the case in both the Obama and Trump administrations. Congress needs to compromise to solve this problem and come up with new permanent legislation that makes sense. As I recommended to Senators Cantwell and Murray, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would be an excellent place to start.

However, so far our elected leaders have been unwilling to compromise.

Republicans, even with a majority in both houses cannot come up with legislation. Democrats have been unwilling to cross party lines and compromise with moderate Republicans.

Compromise is seen as weakness. Both sides see immigration reform (and many other issues) as a Win/Lose situation when they should be looking for a Win/Win.”

In the meantime, nothing gets resolved.

Trump uses executive power the way he wants to, but without bi-partisan permanent legislation and resolution of the issues (i.e. a compromise), the next president could just as easily reverse all of the Trump decisions. Without bi-partisan compromise we will be in an endless loop. Permanent sensible solutions will continue to evade us.

We need for Congress to compromise.

Geo-Political Compromises

Many have criticized President Trump for compromising with Kim Jong Un, the tyrannical Korean dictator who has murdered thousands of his own people, including his own uncle. I too am somewhat jaded and skeptical about being able to compromise with such a man, but it is way too early to tell if the recent compromise that Trump is attempting with Kim was a good thing or not.

As in our personal lives, the success of a compromise of this magnitude is dependent on both sides living up to the promises that are implicit in the compromise. So far the real negotiations have not taken place leaving us with very little understanding of what those “promises” are. All that being said, I do think that in this case Trump deserves credit for being willing to compromise.

A positive historical judgment on the success of Trump’s compromise will be dependent on Kim keeping his promise and destroying his nuclear weapons. If Kim does this, Trump will have a great achievement. If not, well…

So go ahead, Compromise, and feel good about it.


Link to Immigration Post Referenced Above:

Link to Values Post Referenced Above:

3 thoughts on “Compromise”

  1. Comment from Chip Forwood

    As far as political compromise in the foreseeable future – furgetaboutit. It seems our political system has reached a point where neither party wants the other to enjoy a “victory”.  Therefore nothing gets done so the other party can complain that the party in power is ineffective.  It’s not about who is right or who is better; Republicans or Democrats.  The system is currently – “out of order”.  The real question going forward is whether it will ever return to a system where the real goal is solving our many problems without a concern of who gets credit for doing so.

    Thanks for the comment Chip, sadly you are correct given the current state of politics.

    One solution promoted recently by our mutual friend Bill Flammer was instituting term limits. The idea being that this would both introduce new blood on a regular basis and allow them as incumbents to “do the right thing” without having to be constantly worried about their next election. Another idea would be to select our representatives similarly to how we select jury members – randomly from among registered voters. I would really have to chew on both of these awhile, but the effort would be worthwhile if it resulted in a better system.

    I do remember an anomaly that was pointed out in Civics Class back in our days at Swarthmore High School. One idea from that class that stuck in my head was that although people generally don’t like congress as an institution (yes, even then), by and large they do like their own representative and Senators.

    As with all difficult questions there are no easy answers or quick fixes.

  2. Jim, as always a well thought out piece.
    When someone mentions compromise the next word that comes to my mind is negotiation. I spent 45 years in construction management. In that business problem resolution is defined as compromise, as the result of negotiation. Regarding the current immigration dilemma when I see people like Chuck Schumer state that they are not even going to discuss the issues, I have to agree with Chip that negotiation and solution are not likely.
    As Jim stated I see the first part of the solution as term limits. If our congressional reps still cannot go to DC and work for all of us, then remove political parties from the selection process and chose the reps randomly from voter registration roles. Reserve political identification for presidential elections. Both of these ides will get a lot of support in DC? Right!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Bill.

      I especially like your definition of compromise that includes “as a result of negotiation.”

      I also share your concern about partisanship loyalty trumping (pun intended) loyalty to the nation as a whole. Representatives should work for the benefit of all of their constituents, not just their base and/or financial supporters. As honest Abe said, “…Government of the People, By the People, and FOR the People…”

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