Instructed by healthy compromise

It’s no surprise that I can have conflict in life; we all do.

As we age, if we’re perceptive and reflective in the least,  we acquire principles by which we navigate the tasks and work with the people at hand.  The principles work – that’s why they’re principles, but I have found that the people can have little or no respect for such notions as efficiency, priority and even agree on goals.

When that happens, I generally sink into moods and actions that are quite unbecoming of someone so .. principled.  Maybe I need a new layer of principles crafted for just that eventuality.  Ok, will work on that.  Well, I am working on that and have been working on that.

And it’s taken me to the area of negotiated compromise.  If a principle is held to so tenaciously it can make me completely unpractical and useless.  Not to mention destructive for all the wrong reasons.

So I compromise.  I wait my turn to say what I have to say.  And I remember in truth how these principles became established in my life – usually from being wrong.  (It’s never been about being right).

Relating to those to whom I report – I take orders and offer constructive commentary.  Now, fortunately those are both in my job description.  But even in the most regimented, unforgiving environments – let’s say the military – it is possible and important to ask permission to speak off the record.  And if one’s words are edifying, even if contrary and summarily ignored at first, one’s principles and cause will generally be advanced.

Dealing with peers, I state my position without yielding its learned driving tenets (I “stick to my guns”) and defend those for whom I am responsible (my “reports”), both in practical and personal terms.

Towards those who report to me, I persuade and listen, taking in alternative suggestions so as to incorporate the best we all have to offer.  No doubt there are those who have felt and still feel slighted by my not taking their approach or advice, but I’ve learned that’s part of leading.  Honestly, try it sometime.

Now, lacking this practice of pragmatism turns me turn into someone quite poisonous and distracting.  My principles, given too much power,  take me completely out of the game.  That’s not good.

This has be taken to the grand scale, because tribal and national relations are a very good area displaying the dynamics of conflict resolution and compromise as well.

America is a melting pot.  It’s not the only one by any means.  But there are wildly divergent opinions, things to advocate for or against and groups formed around the promotion of those ideas and policies.

The conflict can get nasty – more on that later – but we basically get along.  We vote people into and out of office and mostly we submit to the results of that voting process, even if we don’t like the results.

Some years ago I spoke to a Moroccan man and our conversation turned to the government of his country.  They have a king.  I asked him what happens when it’s time for a new king.  Now, I have no idea if he spoke for most Moroccans, maybe not, in what he said and particularly how he said it, but he announced, with unflinching matter-of-fact-ness “We shoot the king and another rises up to power” (paraphrase).

I will unabashedly say elections is a better way to transfer power and this is as extreme a difference in process as may exist, but it reveals what I call (and I’m trying to be redemptive, believe me) an immature approach to conflict resolution.

At this writing the people of Crimea are preparing to vote whether or not that part of today’s Ukraine will rejoin Russia.  Ethnic Russians comprise a majority in that state and the vote is likely to go their way, say the experts.  The aftermath will be interesting and possibly horribly tragic.

In America,we have ethnic people of every stripe yet we haven’t had secession and war since the 19th century Civil War which was really about slavery and the economics of the south (Lincoln said it was to preserve the union, but that was a union split by those factors).  We vote.  We live with the results.  Mostly.  Now and then a president is assassinated, but not like Moroccan kings, to establish a succession of power.  It’s not a coup d’etat.

But truth be told we also have conflict resolution issues even within our election-based system.    There’s always controversy, always disagreement.  And that’s good because we need each other’s principles, agree with them or like it or not.

Our current problem – and it’s always a problem – is civility, or the lack thereof.

Let me make a statement I made in isolation on Facebook today:

A key measure of the maturity of any party or movement is its civility – its raw treatment – of those who, breaking no law and in all good conscience, simply disagree and pursue the “competition”. The shaming mockery of those who differ from us does nothing to establish our superiority; instead it degrades and regresses our argument to that of a 12-year-old..

So, I think we need to chill and be instructed by pragmatism.  To humble ourselves and remember that we’re all just learning.  We know a lot less than we think we do.  And knowing that is extremely valuable.

Principles are vital – we worked hard for them after all – but we’re not done accumulating them – none of us.

And if truth be told – and it will be told no matter what we think – principles within us conflict and jostle for prominence.  Balance in all things, including balance.

I won’t go into the scriptures here .. those tenets and principles that I believe trump all others.  That belief would seem to establish an unfair advantage to a particular tribe and its ideas.

And I have many friends who would shriek at the idea of compromising on scripture.  But I’m not.  And I won’t.

That’s because the full counsel of scripture also has a very balanced approach to life.  Its principles temper one another.  Iron sharpens iron among people of faith.  It’s a whole different level.  And a whole different blog entry.