The Breakdown of Compromise?

So is it really the death of compromise as Chris Cillizza of the Post seems to state in his recent article. Whether it is the Minnesota government shutdown, the NFL player lockout or more recently the NBA player lockout, Cillizza says compromise seems to be a bad word. Why? Cillizza states one reason is that people can isolate their ideas from other ideas too easily. People these days are so used to listening and reading only to sources that wholly and completely affirm their opinions and beliefs that they become entrenched – so entrenched, in fact, that they become unreasonable, obstinate, and even violent. When people become isolated that way they fail to use even basic negotiation skills to seek common ground, compromise, or even an understanding of the other side’s position because they do not care anymore. Once they do not care, then the other has no value. Then the other can more easily be devalued and disrespected through the demonization process. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what is happening all around us. Are not we guilty of the same thing in our own lives? Name-calling is the first form of violence and once we become violent with the tongue, the groundwork has been laid for moving to the next stage.

Why are we idolizing the lonely stand? Why do we accept people framing a debate in terms of my way or nothing – or, I have a mandate and must carry it through unchanged – or I do not have to have this conversation with you because it is none of your business? Really? Is that alright to say? I am not saying we have to be “politically correct” but there is a way to have a civil debate. It is a fundamental principle we as Americans believe in. Debate leads to an understanding of the other and an acceptance of fact and a willingness to listen and ultimately to some sort of compromise that moves us forward in an “all for one” kind of mentality. Sure it may not be perfect but it moves us forward until the next debate. But that hope in the brotherhood of mankind, the civility of the debate, the acceptance of the undisputed fact, is eroding. We do not look for the agreement even in our everyday lives. We fight over everything. We must be right and the other must be wrong. Where is all this coming from?

One big culprit is the media. The media has contributed to this mentality because of its refusal to have journalistic integrity. It refuses to call a fact a fact and it insists that every issue deserves a gaggle of talking heads on each side to muddy the waters. While this might make for good entertainment ( and I even question that because it appeals to our prurient interests – yea, I said that word – and we know where that leads us) it certainly hurts us as a sophisticated people trying to govern, makes a law, and be the important player we are in the world. There are so many polls and “sources” and “experts” that nobody has clue what to accept as truth. There is the truth my friends. Truth does exist and we have to have a real way to access it.

By losing our boundaries for truth we have allowed the worst in us to rise to the top. Opinion has become way too important, ego has usurped reason and caring about your neighbor and the seven deadly sins sit nicely on display for us in many of our public figures and I am certain in so much of our personal lives. Think about it…greed, malice, lust, pride, avarice…. and where is fairness, respect, dignity, compromise. We want to “win” now and we want to do what I have said over and over again not to do – don’t take it all and leave the other person completely devastated at the negotiation table. Leave them with something. Let them save face.

I have been watching Minnesota very closely these days because the government shutdown is not to be taken lightly. Yet, I am not sure Governor Dayton had a choice in this matter. He tried to mediate and the GOP-dominated legislature would not agree. They are on an all-or-nothing platform and crisis is at least a “tipping point” for dragging people toward compromise. This smaller situation can have far-reaching implications for Washington depending on how this situation plays out. This may indeed be a teachable moment. Do we really want extreme positions that force crisis or do we want people who are willing to move slower, through compromise, into change.