Spirit of compromise missing from government and individuals

Compromise. The mere mention of the word sends me into these daydreams of being an elementary-aged  kid and younger, learning about sharing and reaching an agreement. Who knew that fighting over time on the swings or a particular toy would ultimately teach us valuable lessons regarding compromising, sharing and negotiation? These little lessons would grow and blossom as we traveled through school and our lives. Bitter battles over blocks would turn into fights over friendships, which would ultimately turn into conflicts of a never-ending variety.

From infanthood to adulthood and beyond life lessons grow from simple exercises. These lessons weren’t limited to compromise though – most professional skills such as leadership, working in a group and general responsibility can find their roots in the classroom for most kids.

Despite the constant drilling of the brilliance of compromise into our collective brains, somewhere along the way, we have lost that spirit. Our very foundation of government was built upon compromise. Compromise was really the only way to get things done up through most of the early history of the United States. It was the only way to keep the United States from breaking apart completely in the decades leading into the Civil War.

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One glance to the world around us and it is not hard to see how far, as a society, we have deviated from the idea of compromise. Our daily news is overwhelmed with stories of the government’s constant deadlock and politicians’ refusal to compromise.

Unfortunately the problems with lack of governmental compromise are that the spirit of confrontation and discord has permeated not only the government but the rest of the population. Of course, the problems are not that individuals are choosing to stand on the brink of financial ruin instead of putting down party politics for the benefit of everyone. The compromise problem is more deeply seeded for society.

What should be standard procedure when there is conflict is to speak up or negotiate a compromise that leaves everyone equally happy (or displeased). Instead, the new acceptable way to deal with conflict is an angry shouting match, followed by someone giving in and giving the other side whatever it is they want. The first one to give in is the loser. That loser goes on to harbor hurt feelings, resentment, and bitterness toward the victor. The alternative to this is refusing to admit what it is they want and then allowing the other to get what that party wants. The party who gets nothing silently seethes over their lost opportunity, building resentment and ultimately holding a grudge.

This anger of both varieties usually takes its toll on the relationship and it becomes nearly impossible to come back from it. I’m sure millions of friendships, marriages, relationships and professional associations have been ruined from some variation of this exact process. This is what the normal is.

The United States has become a culture of the passive aggressive. This can’t continue to happen. Instead of being willing and happy to lay it all out on the table and create something that both parties can be happy with, the refusal to compromise and the “my way or the highway” mentality is causing strife within every facet of American life.

We cannot move past division and disharmony without first admitting what it is we want. We need to stop standing for petty disagreements being business as usual in the government; we need to stop seeing stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise as admirable traits in our leaders. Negotiating skills used to be a valuable tool and they should be again.

Perhaps if we start addressing these behaviors in our leaders as something we do not desire we can eliminate these behaviors. If our leaders are setting a good example, perhaps the rest of the country will follow suit. The only way for things to change is for everyone to realize the value of compromise in society. We can only do that by remembering the lessons we all learned as children.


Chelsea Mellin can be reached at




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