Political cartoon attributed to Benjamin Franklin calling for unity among the American coloniesI have been thinking a lot recently about the concept of compromise, what does it mean to me,what does it mean to you or to our nation; is it extinct or can it be rediscovered?Webster‟s offers several definitions for compromise: a. As a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions; b. As something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things; c. As a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial.Compromise, I believe, means different things to different people and in different contexts. It canbe seen negative or positive. Compromise can be negative if, for example, the person feels thatcompromise on the issue is also a compromise on their principles or morals, or that he lacks thewillpower to remain steadfast. Compromise can have positive meanings, too. For example, itmight mean that she is a constructive problem solver, or that she is flexible and a good partner.Couples soon find how important compromise is to making their relationship work. My fellowToastmaster David Irwin, when asked by me what compromise means to him, shared this story:“My fiancé found a cat in the dumpster. We already have two cats and I was like „We‟re notkeeping another cat,‟ and then she got mad at me and so we compromised … Now we have threecats.”They will need to seek other compromises in the future. What size wedding with they have? Willthey have children and, if so, how many? What church should they go to together as a couple,especially if they come from different faith backgrounds? And to what parents‟ home will theytravel this Thanksgiving?
I found nearly 40 million results for compromise during a Google search, including 23,000references in news articles. Did you know there was a blue fin tuna harvest compromise thisweek in the European Union, where they are also working on a compromise to the financialcrisis in Ireland.We like to organize ourselves according to our interests – be these economic, religious, orcultural. These specific interests – whether they are slight or powerful – evolve over time, oftencombining into something stronger through compromise with others, as well as compromise withour own other interests.It seems today, however, when reading some of those news headlines as if we see more fissurethen fusion. This is especially the case in U.S. politics where we seem to have reached a pointwhere our major political parties no longer listen to the differing viewpoints of others. Evenwithin the Republican Party there has been a push to make it more pure by getting rid of thoseRINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, who may have a track record of moderation orcompromise in their past.Benjamin Franklin understood the political value of compromise when he wrote, “the good thatmen may do separately is small compared with what they may do collectively.”Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and who builta successful business around Franklin‟s principles, contends we should strive for mutuallybeneficial, or win-win, solutions or agreements to our problems.A win for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution, he says, than if only one person, or onepolitical party, in the situation gets their way. We can only reach a win-win solution, Coveycontends, by being empathetic listeners and seeking first to understand the point of view of theother side so that they can better understand us.In Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the rivalry between the big and littlestates over whether the legislative branch should be proportioned by population or with equalvotes per state almost tore the convention apart.According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Franklin rose before the body to make a motion onbehalf of a compromise that would have the House proportioned by population and the Senatewith equal votes per state. The 81-year-old Franklin said,“When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of planks do not fit, the artist takes a little fromboth, and makes a good joint. In like manner here, both sides must part with some of theirdemands.”His point is crucial for understanding the art of true leadership – compromisers may not makegreat heroes or get re-elected, but they do make great democracies.