The Importance of Compromise

I know, I know. I’ve talked about this again and again. But I will keep talking about it until someone listens to me. Or lots of someones. Preferably lots of someones. Because, according to a new poll, this subject is lost on the majority of the population.

The headline is what grabbed my attention first: “Americans Want Their Leaders To Stand And Fight.” I thought to myself “Well, duh. Who wants a leader who’s afraid of a fight?” So I read on and, as I read, I became steadily more disturbed. It turns out that what the author was talking about was a poll that found that 49% (49%!!) of Americans want a political leader who “sticks to their positions without compromise.”


Almost a majority of all Americans want a political leader who is unwilling to compromise. Almost a majority of Americans want elected officials to, essentially, not do anything if others don’t agree with them. Almost a majority of Americans want elected officials to throw tantrums when they don’t get their way rather than work constructively to fix it.

And don’t think that 51% of Americans are on the other side of this fence (that is want a political leader who will “make compromises with someone they disagree with”). No no no no. That would make sense. Only 42% of Americans want this kind of political leader. The remaining 9%? They “don’t know.”

Ignoring the respondents who didn’t know if they would want a leader willing to compromise, let’s focus on the ones that would prefer a political leader who was more willing to throw tantrums than compromise. (Ok, yes, I know that’s not what the survey says but what else is that political leader to do when confronted with the inevitable situation where someone doesn’t agree with them?)

When broken down by political affiliation, both a majority of Republicans (62%) and Independents (53%) favored non-compromising political leaders. Only self-identified Democrats (54%) sided with compromisers. Which, if you think about, explains so much about the problems that Democrats traditionally have with appearing to be strong leaders.

It’s so easy to not compromise. There are so many purely political upsides. It’s easier to boil down what you believe in; it’s easier to paint things in black and white and people as for or against something; it’s easier to communicate your position in 30 seconds or less. These are all things that are gold in today’s political arena.

However, it’s not easy to govern effectively without compromise. It’s not easy to achieve broad-based solutions that are more likely to work. It’s not easy to achieve any kind of consensus. It’s not easy to understand viewpoints different from yours. It’s not easy to work within a world colored with diversity.

Guess which one of those two scenarios most closely resembles the world in which we live? No wonder things are so screwed up.


4 responses to “The Importance of Compromise

  1. I’m totally with you on this one.

  2. But look at how effective at advancing their agendas the non-compromisers are! Need we mention that funny talking German with the cute mustache? The Corsican fellow with the short man complex? Or good ol’ Joe Stalin? I think you’re too down on the non compromisers… I mean, these folks really get stuff done!

  3. I gotta say, I’m for the no compromising. But, lest you think me a shortsighted and narrow minded political extremist, let me explain. Compromise leaves both sides feeling at least slightly let down and that isn’t how I want to live or how I want to see others live. In fact, compromised solutions may be as effective as no solution at all, end even worse than doing nothing in some cases. Here’s an example I adapted from someone else’s work: Suppose a parent has two kids who are fighting over having an orange, so they cut it in half and the kids both get half each. Compromise, right? Both get a little of something they want and that’s better than nothing? Nope. It turns out that one kid wanted to eat the orange and the other just wanted the peel because their dad often peels oranges with a knife, cutting the peel off in one long spiraled piece that’s always a lot of fun to play with. Now one kid has a peel that is useless and the other goes hungry when the peel kid throws away their half of the orange because they’re upset at the other one for taking their peel playing opportunity. Not to mention that they both hate their dad because he came up with a stupid idea, even though he feels like the great peacemaker for his brilliant solution and will continue this behavior and his bragging about how great he is for coming up with it for years to come (he is a guy after all, just like me). For a more relevant example, let’s consider some government types who compromised and decided to spend a little money on everyone’s solution, instead of spending all the money on one or two solutions that may actually have done something, with the end result being that they spent a bunch of money and nothing good happened. This happens all the time in meetings I attend – everyone wants to have input in a document or a definition of a term and so, to compromise, we include their input, but then the term or the document is toothless and meaningless when we’re done. So, I don’t like compromise – it too often comes out being win-lose or lose-lose, so I guess I’m with the 49%.
    But (and here’s where my idea doesn’t freeze the whole political process if everyone follows it), I think seeking integration might be useful. Let’s take the orange example, what if dad sits down with the kids and tries to understand what they want, talking through what about having the orange is important to each kid? Guess what, without compromise, dad can meet the demands of both children. Win-win, no compromise. Of course, this is contingent on one of the children not being vindictive and insisting on having the peel and the meat of the orange. Still, I’m guessing that something similar can happen in government… maybe. So then, who would I vote for? Probably the type of person you are trying to categorize and feeling frustrated right now because I’ve just taken 5 minutes of your time to read all of this and I’ve said what you’re really meaning to say. I want to vote for the person that works hard to hear the other side and then seeks ways to integrate the two views so all of the best ideas get full attention, without dilution. I want an integrator, not a compromiser. But, maybe I’m prone to utopian delusions. Thanks for your patience.

  4. I appreciate your thoughtful discussion and actually (shock!) agree with your point about integration. In an ideal world that would work and leave everyone satisfied with the outcome.

    But we don’t live in an ideal world. The world we live in is one where people’s beliefs are far more complicated than the process of integration can address and there will be sticking points. Yes, compromise leaves some people feeling disappointed. But it also, usually, ends up with a solution that address everyone’s major concerns. And a solution that people don’t turn around and start bashing and threatening to defund, repeal, burn in effigy once election season rolls around.

    Compromise is how we ended up with our current system of government and I think compromise is the way to make government work most effectively for everyone.

    Your point does give me hope, though, that the 49% are as thoughtful as you are AJ. 🙂

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