The Case for Compromise

America is a divided country. It’s 340 million citizens represent one of the most diverse collections of people anywhere in the world. And today, our population is equally divided, into two tribes. One tribe (Republicans), is more white, religious, capitalist, and rural. The other tribe (Democrats), is more multicultural, agnostic, increasingly socialist, and urban.

Each tribe wants many of the same things. Peace, prosperity, freedom, a higher quality of life for themselves and their families… They simply have different beliefs on how to achieve these objectives. Neither group has a lock on wisdom, although both act like they do. In reality, both have good ideas and both have bad ideas.

The answer is NOT to choose sides. The answer is to cherry-pick the best ideas from each side. And this requires critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, and compromise.

It is inaccurate to suggest that compromise isn’t advisable because it yields inequitable results. Some have suggested that compromise, on something like slavery, would yield a bad result. What yields bad results is not compromise — it’s bad examples. The suggestion that slavery is never half good or half bad is one such bad example.

Compromise doesn’t need to occur on a mechanical, “halfway” basis, or even on an issue by issue basis. Compromise can involve trade-offs between issues and over issues.

Who gets to cut the cake does not need to focus exclusively on the act of cutting. One side cuts and the other side chooses which piece they want, is a fair compromise. Two people might both own identical condos and both may be interested in either buying or selling — at the right price. Allowing you to name the price, while I decide if I’m a buyer or a seller at that price, is another fair compromise. Agreeing that Americans have an individual right to bear arms, while further agreeing that “arms” do not include abnormally dangerous weapons, is another reasonable and appropriate compromise.

Compromise is, by definition, equitable. And compromise works. To suggest otherwise is unwise and unhelpful. There are exceptions to every rule. That doesn’t mean that we should focus on the exceptions and use them to argue against the rule. Instead, it means that we need to work to mitigate or avoid inequitable exceptions. Unfortunately, that takes effort and lazy minds loath effort.

Some people, on both sides of the political spectrum, think they know what’s “right”. See, the “Dunning Kruger Effect”. They overestimate their intelligence. They think “they” have the answers when the truth is that they don’t have a clue. Their fragile egos, fueled by their misplaced notions of intellectual or moral superiority, cause them to believe that they’re “right” while others are “wrong”.

Sadly, some crave validation more than they crave progress or truth. Insecure people require validation. They need to believe that their world view is the “correct” view. These people undermine all of us. Many are inherently weak-minded, intellectually dishonest, shortsighted, and selfish. Others have an impaired self-image that constantly cries out for validation. They’re always right. Wrong. They’re rarely right. And none of us should listen to anyone who is unwilling to compromise.

Except in the rare case, of an entirely illegitimate demand, compromise is almost always the correct answer. Unity requires compromise and unity is essential to our mutual survival as a species. In an equally divided country of 340 million people, all other answers will inevitably lead to conflict.

The idea that one side (the side with self-described “superior intellect and/or morality”, or even the “majority”), is somehow justified in imposing their will on the other side, is far more dangerous and insidious than your average fool’s errand. It’s a recipe for civil war. Which is exactly what the failure to broker a creative compromise over slavery yielded.

A better approach, that might have averted the Civil War, would have been a negotiated agreement to end slavery while recognizing and mitigating the economic chaos that the abolition of slavery would and did cause in the south. The better answer, in 1861, would have been a compromise solution that would have eliminated slavery, while offering a viable economic alternative to the south. This could have been done, probably at a lower cost than the cost of the war, without the attendant loss of 700,000 American lives — a death toll that still exceeds the total number of American casualties lost in all other U.S. conflicts.

One partial solution to slavery might have been for the federal government to buy all cotton from the southern plantations, at a price that would have allowed for southern labor to be employed rather than enslaved. A modern-day farm subsidy if you will. This may have even allowed for timely and equitable reparations.

Countless other compromise solutions no doubt existed or could have been created had the will to compromise existed on both sides. People just failed to look for them, see them, or embrace them. Instead, they gravitated toward what appeared to them to be the only morally defensible or economically viable solution — pit brother against brother, in the bloodiest conflict in our nations history — all in the name of morality and/or money. Why? Because they were unwilling or unable to craft a superior solution, that might have achieved the same end, or even a better end, without bloodshed.

The fact that compromise did not occur to prevent the Civil War doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the best solution. It doesn’t mean people didn’t try. It simply means that they failed. They failed for the same reasons that exist today — lack of understanding, lack of effort, lack of creativity, collaboration and compromise, lack of empathy and tolerance, dishonest brokers, selfishness, ignorance, and greed.

No doubt similar voices, to what we are hearing today, were heard then. Voices that advocated intolerance and inflexibility over compromise, on the basis of a misguided sense of moral or intellectual superiority, intolerance, and/or greed.

These same people who brought our nation to civil war, politicians from the north and south, should have been held accountable. At a minimum, they should have been made to walk the battlefields that their decisions created. To say that slavery had to end is indisputable, however, that is not to say that it had to end by war, or by one side imposing its demands on the other. Compromise is always an available solution and it is almost always a superior solution. That was true in 1861 and it is true now.

Compromise is inherently equitable when properly structured. And those who don’t see that are those who have little experience in structuring compromise. I have been structuring compromises my entire adult life. I’ve made a living doing it — a very good living. It is possible. It does work. And it is invariably a more equitable, more cost-effective and more efficient solution.

Frankly, I don’t know how some people, who fail to recognize the essential nature of compromise, form any meaningful relationships. Do they always choose the movie, the dinner, and the trips they take with their spouse? Why not? Isn’t it inequitable for them to have to suffer over their wives/husband’s poor choices? No, it’s not. It’s entirely equitable that they have to suffer their spouse’s poor choices — especially since their spouse has to suffer their poor choices. Yet these very same people will argue that their spouse actually benefits from letting them make all the decisions — because they make better choices. Sadly, some people just don’t seem to grasp the concept that involvement and agency, in the decision-making process, is often as important, or even more important, than the decision itself.

Learn to compromise. It’s not all about you, your guns, your sexual orientation, your race, your religion, or your world view. You’re only one of 340 million people in this country. Your tribe is only half of the population — half of the relationship. Stop seeing diversity of opinion and compromise as a threat and start seeing it as an asset. Stop promoting your views exclusively and start promoting the shared views of our diverse community that create a path forward — for all of us.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth discussion of this subject, read Millennial Samurai: A Mindset for the 21st Century or sign up for The Essentials.



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