Alex and Candice are siblings, ages 13 and 11 respectively. (They are also my grandnephew and grandniece). As siblings, they sometimes fight over who gets to ride in the front seat of the car. One day Alex decided to do something about their quarreling. He drew up a legal contract that set the “rules” for determining who got to sit in the front seat when. The contract was two pages long.
Alex signed the document and handed it to his sister to sign. She read it and said, “I’m not signing this. It’s not fair.” They discussed what would be more fair. Then Alex rewrote the contract, signed it, and again gave it to his sister. Again she refused to sign it, saying, “It still favors you.” The third draft proved acceptable to Candice. She signed the contract and Alex put a copy of it in the glove compartment of their car—for handy reference.
When I heard this story, I thought, “If only the rest of the world could resolve their conflicts in such a manner.” I don’t know what made that contract acceptable to both Alex and Candice, but I strongly suspect that some sort of compromise was involved. What is compromise? Essentially it means, “I’ll give in a little if you will give in a little.” And why do we give in a little? Why do we compromise? Because of a greater shared good. In this instance, there were several shared goods: fairness, respect for each other, and peace!
For some people, compromise is a bad word. Just google it and you’ll find countless articles (many are religious related) that say compromise is bad or even a sin. But in her article, “Compromise Is the Glue in Relationships,” in The National Catholic Reporter (October 7, 2016), Heidi Schlumpf takes a different slant. She agrees that scripture and church teachings leave no room for being “wishy-washy.” After all, the Ten Commandments are not Ten Suggestions. And Jesus’ mandate “to love one another as I have loved you” sets the bar of loving as high as you can get.
But Schlumpf argues that a good compromise is the bond that holds relationships together whether in a marriage, friendship, or country. She calls attention to Jesus’ ability to compromise. Just look at his choice of apostles. Peter was far from perfect. He was brash and impetuous. But he was also capable of passionate loyalty and devotion. And Simon the Zealot was (after all) a Zealot, that is, someone who advocated the violent overthrow of the Romans. How unlike Jesus’ own stance. And next to Simon was Matthew, a tax collector who actually collaborated with the Romans against his own people. I imagine the conversations between Simon and Matthew were sometimes tempestuous.
A good compromise is based on a shared basic principle. For example, if two friends want to go and see a movie, they might have to compromise on which movie they end up seeing. Why the compromise? Because their friendship and being together are more important than the particular movie they see.
In a good compromise both parties respect the other party’s legitimate interests. They both exercise flexibility. And they both make a contribution. In other words, both parties collaborate with each other. Mike Rutherford applies compromise to the experience of being in a band. He says, “Being in a band is always a compromise. Provided that the balance is good, what you lose in compromise, you gain in collaboration.”
The writer Paul Murray equates compromise with psychological maturity. It is the acceptance that we cannot live in isolation from the world. Instead we must live within the world, and that entails compromise.
Today you might want to reflect on these questions:
1) What are some of the compromises you have had to make in your friendships, marriage, religious community, church, or work?
2) When is a compromise not a good compromise?
As we conclude the year 2016 and begin the new year of 2017, I chose a song that is a prayer for peace by David Haas. As we pray the words of this song, let us give thanks to God for being with us throughout 2016—through both the happy times and the sad times. And let us reaffirm our belief that God will walk with us throughout the coming year. Happy New Year!
What are some of your thoughts on the subject of compromise?
Or what are your thoughts as you end one year and begin a new one? My readers (and I!) always enjoy hearing from you!