If you were the only person on the planet or if you were “the king of the world!”, then you could always have everything your way. However, several billion others share the planet with you and there is no such thing as the king of the world. That means you don’t always get your way. Maybe you never get your way entirely. But, maybe, just maybe you can get part of what you want by giving others part of what they want. That is called “compromise.” And, contrary to what many believe, compromise is not a 4-letter word.
One of my favorite sayings is, “There are three sides to every story. Your side, my side, and somewhere in between is the truth.” The saying is attributed to several different people and no one really gets full or first credit for it. Commonsense sayings are like that. They become a standard part of our conversation because they ring true. And that is the way it is with compromises – your point of view, my point of view, and somewhere in the middle is a place we can all agree to agree. Someplace that holds truth for all of us.
Taking an extreme position and refusing to budge from it may appear heroic. However, it is also obstructionist. It prevents movement and forward progress. It puts up walls and creates stalemates. It insures that nobody gets their way. Remember the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Politically compromise has had a long and successful run in the USA. We all tend to think of our current political climate as the most contentious ever, but the early years of our nation saw tremendous differences between individuals, states, and parties. If it had not been for compromise, our nation may have ceased to exist. Certainly it would not be the nation it is today without compromise.
From studying history in school you may recall the man known as the “Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay. He served in both houses of Congress from the State of Kentucky in the early to middle 1800’s. In the House of Representatives he was elected speaker of the house six times. Prior to Clay holding the position, the speaker of the house had a minor role, but he shaped the speakership into a very important and influential job. Clay received his nickname with his masterful negotiation of issues that threatened to tear the relatively new country apart. In 1820 and 1821, he crafted the Missouri Compromise to defuse debate over slavery. In 1833, he held off federal troops that wanted to march into South Carolina over a nullified tariff by upholding the tariff but setting a date for its expiration. His third great negotiation came in 1850, when issues of slavery had to be decided in new states that had been ceded by Mexico. He prevented our young country from being torn apart several times because he was a masterful negotiator.
Today, perhaps it is all a matter of word choice. Many who believe the word compromise is a 4-letter word are often good and proud negotiators. In essence a compromise is the outcome of a negotiation. All I want from our current public officials is good policy, effective results, and forward movement. If renaming compromise to negotiation is what it takes for them to accomplish those goals, then I am in favor of that.
Neither compromise, negotiation, nor progress are 4-letter words. I suggest we all consider using them more often to get what we want and what our community, state, and nation need.