Most recently, compromise is being seen as a weakness. It represents an unwillingness to stand up for fundamental principles. When politicians are willing to compromise, it is because they have somehow “lost.” When religions are willing to compromise, they fear that they have “lost” the true way. When regular people are willing to compromise, it’s because they approach moral thinking, right and wrong, and truth and untruth as relative and not absolute – and that is oh, so bad. Yes, in this day of absolutist, belief-driven thinking, compromise is very wrong.
But compromise is pragmatic. Compromise is the way things get done.
We are not a society of cloned individuals that think and act exactly alike. We bring different perspectives to our social and political discussions and without compromise, those discussions and many possibilities for social and political change are dead in the water.
This is certainly not a complete list, but please consider:
1. Companies and unions cannot reach compromise solutions. This has lead to lockouts. Here in Minnesota, for instance, two of the world’s best orchestras, the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, have been in the midst of labor negotiations for nearly a year. There has been no compromise -- and no concerts. Soon it is likely that one or both orchestras will cease to be relevant on the world’s stage. They will have lost their audiences. They will have lost their musicians. In the end, we may all lose.
2. The two polarized sides in the abortion debate seem not to be able to compromise. Just arriving at an agreed-upon-definition of when “life begins” could solve the social dilemma that has occupied politics and much religious attention for at least 30 years in this country. The two extreme positions and the unwillingness of their proponents to compromise have resulted in legalized abortion from birth to essentially full term. We the people have all lost.
3. Gun control discussions are loaded with uncompromising positions. Even positions that were previously supported by one side – like background checks - are now “off limits,” seemingly because political opponents support those same positions. The fear that political opponents have about seeming to agree with each other means that we all lose in the end.
4. The current healthcare debate is rife with uncompromising positions. Even with new laws passed, the political opposition refuses to accept the legislation. And we the people lose.
5. The US Senate has not proposed a budget in – what – four years? Why? Probably because the Republicans might not let it come to the floor for a vote (In the Senate, they use a filibuster to prevent a vote.) or probably because the Democrats don’t want to allow any amendments to their own proposals. Rather than reach a compromise, it seems both sides would rather stop talking and blame each other…and we lose.
Our social and political conversations have become social and political shouting matches. Everybody, it seems, is making noise - but nobody is listening.
How much are we willing to lose?
This commentary was first published April 21, 2013 by the Winona Daily News