I’ve often wondered why we don’t ask out candidates for office the hardest question of all? “Which of your principals are you willing to give up, for all of us?”
In other words, it’s fine to hold strong beliefs, we expect that. They are easy to shout at conventions, provide gleeful agreement for supporters and rallying points for strong campaigns. However, they are not a measure of strength only of conviction.
Leadership is choosing, often against you’re better judgement between two (or 5) horrible alternatives. It’s working with people you disagree with and often don’t like or even respect. It’s forging consensus where there was none before and taking the pounding when the people you lead didn’t get their way. In short, it’s leading, and almost never has anything to do with getting your own way.
I’ve been derisive and then impressed with John Boehner lately. He worked hard to forge a deal on the debt ceiling and then went back to his party and was told to “go to hell.” The impressive part was he came back to deal again. Whether this is an impressive piece of political stagecraft, or just the way things work in Washington these days, I don’t know. I hope not. I’d like to think there are a few of the old time politicians left around who do have the courage to compromise.
Our entire congressional system is built around compromise and consensus. That’s the way it was designed and that’s the way it works best. When we have congressmen and women who draw a line in the sand and bravely will not cross it, they are like the proverbial wooden shoes in the machinery. Have enough of those, either left or right, and congress grinds to a halt. These people are no longer doing the job they were elected to in government. They are not governing.
It takes guts to compromise, it’s not easy. It often hurts personally, politically and sometimes even historically. That’s why Senators and Representatives get the big bucks. It’s why CEOs get big salaries as well. They get them for leading.
We have a lot of praise going around lately for those who will not compromise, it is misguided at best and exceedingly dangerous for the rest of us most of the time. Not every situation calls for Henry Fonda in “12 angry men.” It’s a nice thought that it happens for good from time to time, but when you think about it an Islamic or Christian fundamentalist is being “Henry,” as well. Certainly, in their own minds they are heroes of good unwilling to compromise with the forces of evil.
It’s a human failing, all too common, not to be able to compromise your own personal beliefs for the greater good. Perhaps it’s a genetic trait that is slowly being weeded out of the race in an evolutionary amount of time. After all, those who will not compromise usually end up trying to force their will upon others through violence, and they usually get killed for the trouble. At best they are slowly ostracized which cuts down their chances in the gene pool.
Maybe that’s what “the meek shall inherit the earth” actually means. Can’t happen soon enough for me. For now I’ll limit myself to not supporting those I see that show “uncompromising” signs. Some are easy to spot like the Christian fundamentalist in Norway, Anders Behring Brevik, Osama bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh. But we all know someone a little like that, the ones that just won’t admit another possibility, no matter who it hurts. Usually we just stop talking to them, trying not to be like that ourselves. Maybe that’s evolution in action.
I can think of a hundred examples in the movies or in books of the uncompromising winning the day for good, but in real life there are thousands more examples of good being accomplished by compromise. It’s a messy way to go, with very few victory parades. But until we are all willing to take those two steps back for that one precious step forward, that’s the way it will be.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011