Guy’s Time: Compromise or Division?

written by CARL DANBURY, JR. 

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In the past six years or so, I have met an inordinate number of people who I would have never guessed in a million years would become friends of mine. In the prior 52 years of my life, many of the people I knew had a common link of some sort, making it virtually inevitable that we would develop close, inseparable friendships. But what about those with whom you have the scantest of shared interests or commonality?

What about those who have a different political view, an odd way of expressing themselves, a different sexual orientation or alternative belief system? During the past 18 months, the political debates, unfortunate circumstances, senseless deaths, racial tensions and unwillingness to take a stroll in someone else’s contrarian shoes has led to some very ugly incidents. Not a week goes by, sometimes it seems like only a minute, without some interminable event that drives a stake in the heart of moderate American behavior or idealism. There are two poles on our earth but few can reside there. Today, the extreme left and the extreme right share a commonality, in that they each have an ugliness about them, and they are both extreme. But, no one should try to live in the extreme.

Compromise doesn’t rely upon bickering or not listening to dissenting points of view. The old adage that you have to meet somewhere in the middle means an equatorial position, not the North or South Pole. So, let’s for a moment look at a common sense approach to compromise, trying to end legislative gridlock and kick into gear a new beginning to enact change that will enable us to move forward moderately, rather than the vast chasm of polarization that exists today.

Imagine a political opponent was like one of the friends I previously mentioned. Maybe it’s a friend who grew up in an abusive relationship, watched his mother get beaten by her husband, and eventually came to the realization that he was homosexual. Maybe he was belittled by his father for taking his mother’s side, for “choosing” an alternative sexual lifestyle, for not being masculine enough or one of the boys?

What if you accepted this guy as a friend by accepting him for who he is rather than who he isn’t? What if you came to understand why he believes what he believes, why he doesn’t see things exactly like you do, or others do? What if you compromised for a meaningful relationship? Maybe he could overlook your tendency to chauvinism and you could accept that he is different than you in some ways, but much alike in others? Maybe he could overlook your penchant for maintaining the status quo and you could understand his desire to enact change? What if he shared your zeal for fundraising, and you found that common ground outweighed any differences you might have? What if his cynical sense of humor and dry wit mirrored yours, would it truly matter if your view of social security wasn’t exact? What if you differed on how to fund the Affordable Care Act, yet you both knew someone who passed away due to ovarian cancer and you both wanted to raise money for that devastating disease?

The point is that overlooking your differences to discover a commonality could lead to a meaningful, lasting relationship. Acceptance of one another’s shortcomings and viewpoints can lead to mutual appreciation that may benefit each of you. How is solving this relationship puzzle any different than political compromise?

In an excerpt from “Compromise & The Common Good” published in 2013 by the American Academy of Art and Sciences, professors Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson maintained:

“Classic compromises serve the common good not only by improving on the status quo from the agreeing parties’ particular perspectives, but also by contributing to a robust democratic process. The goods in a classic compromise are not all held in common; yet all parties benefit from the compromise and value the process by which it is reached. The agreement itself demands the sacrifice of some goods that each party believes should be, but are not, shared.

In the polarized politics of our time, the prospects for consensual agreements based solely on common ground or containing only common goods are increasingly bleak…

Yet the classic compromise today offers the best hope for political progress. The major issues in current legislative debates represent deep divisions on fundamental questions about the role of government, the nature of justice, and the liberties, rights, and responsibilities of citizens. The broad issues on which many Americans generally favor legislative compromise – taxation, government spending, health care, cost controls, job creation, immigration – are unlikely to be addressed at all if legislators hold out for common ground.”

Another salient point they espoused in this work is memorable. “The resistance to democratic compromise is anchored in an uncompromising mindset, a cluster of attitudes and arguments that encourage principled tenacity (standing on principle) and mutual mistrust (suspecting opponents). This mindset is conducive to campaigning but inimical to governing.”

This hindrance influences political debate but it also is the very basis of personal prejudice. Unwillingness to truly learn about what others, who are very different from you, face along with an “uncompromising mindset” creates ill will and intemperance. The fundamental principle for relationships, political or personal, comes from a willingness to accept. Without acceptance, without compromise, walls are built and bridges are rendered ineffective. Theologian, scholar and author Joseph Fort Newton understood this more than 100 years ago, when he wrote, “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”

While it seems not much has changed in the past century, maybe now is as good a time as any to consider it.