Why “Compromise” Isn’t a Dirty Word

As politicians reach for the outer edges of their respective parties, the ones who compromise are being labeled as sell-outs rather than pragmatists, leaving those of us in the political center without much hope for reasonable leadership. And it isn’t just in politics, the art of compromise seems to be disappearing in boardrooms, town halls, and among everyday Americans. Not cool.

We’ve always had leaders who hold firm to an ideal, and I recognize that those folks can serve an important purpose: setting a standard, providing a visionary goal. But when two opposing sides entrench, we go nowhere. It baffles me that so many people consider “uncompromising” a compliment when synonyms include words like rigid, obstinant, intransigent, stubborn, and pig-headed. Are these the traits we admire? I sure don’t.

The intense political polarization in our country is tearing us apart, which is heartbreaking because I really believe so many more people are in the center than on the fringes. But when the political discourse is dominated by fringe elements, we all begin looking at our neighbors with a bit more suspicion. I guess by pandering to the people on the outermost edges of political ideas, politicians and others hope to engage those who are more passionate; that is, more apt to act (donate, volunteer, attend a rally) than those of us in the center.

As Americans, we have so much more that unites us than divides us. I live in a small town where I have friends of all political stripes, from libertarians to liberals to conservatives. Mostly, we all want to provide for our families and to be allowed to live our lives according to our own values.

As Americans, we have so much more that unites us than divides us.

As a public relations professional, I help clients develop and share their messages with the goal of convincing others to join their cause, to align with their way of thinking enough to support whatever they’re promoting, whether it’s ideas, products or services. To develop effective messaging, I spend a fair amount of time trying to understand what motivates various audiences, and what I find is that there is a tremendous amount of common ground to play with.

Unfortunately, just because I can find common ground doesn’t mean it’s easy to compromise. It’s often hard to know when to compromise, how much to compromise, and with whom to compromise. Giving away ground on a position requires trust, and that’s hard to come by in this polarized environment. I guess I would say this: if you’re in an argument where both sides stick to the issues rather than degrading into a mud-slinging contest, maybe someone could be brave enough to suggest a way forward that gives each side a little of what they want. And when we find ourselves being hijacked by emotion, we need to recognize it in ourselves.

As the 2020 political campaigns ramp up, I hope those of us in the center will be willing to speak up to support a more pragmatic approach, one that includes a little compromise. I think we need to publicly applaud leaders who work with counterparts across the aisle to make America a prosperous nation where people of all descriptions can work hard to achieve success.