Monday, May 15, 2006



We've given the word "compromise" an unfortunate connotation. We praise someone for being "uncompromising", and we consider it bad to "compromise one's desires" (or one's ideas, or one's position, or whatever). But that's wrong.

Compromise is central to every relationship, whatever the relationship is — romantic, friendly, business, governmental, even adversarial. Whether he'll admit it or not, King George has to compromise with Congress, and with other world leaders; IBM and Microsoft may compromise to form an agreement that will be better for both; a couple has to reach many compromises over their lifetime, as they disagree on wants, needs, preferences, where to go for vacation, how to deal with the kids, and so on.

It's fine to take an uncompromising position on a specific issue, when you've decided that's the right thing to do. But that's a specific decision, and to be generally "uncompromising" is to be inflexible, and that makes for a poor partnership and weak relationships. It's OK for George Bush to say that he won't compromise the safety of the country by agreeing to some particular arrangement or other. It's not OK for him to say that he won't compromise.

I wish we had picked a different word for it. We want to say that we won't lower our standards. We want to say that we won't be taken advantage of. We want to say that there are certain things we're unwilling to give up. But we all have to be able to negotiate, and to compromise.

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