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August 9, 2011

Now that a deal has been reached and the debt ceiling has been lifted (crisis averted!) I find myself wondering if anybody in the media or politics really knows what the word compromise means. Somehow, an inherent part of compromise – reciprocity – has been ignored completely.

It is not compromise when one side bends over backwards to accommodate the other side. It is not compromise when the side who has been accommodated so vigorously demands further accommodations beyond what they had originally asked for. And it is not compromise when the first side gives in to these demands. And all of this at the expense of the greater good.

Reciprocity requires both sides to kindly consider what is good, not only for them, but for those with whom they are dealing as well. Reciprocity asks, “what can we do to make this work for both of us?”.  There was none of this consideration in the debt ceiling negotiations. The two questions there seemed to be, “how can get what we want?” and “how can we end this confrontation?”.

Reciprocity is an inherent part of a spiritual life. The lack of it in this case, to me,  is further proof of my earlier assertion that the lack of spirituality in politics is leading to an ever more partisan conversation. In the case of the debt ceiling negotiations,  one side was being a bully and the other side did exactly what you should never do when dealing with a bully: give in.

Bullying has no place in politics or anywhere else in our society. Consider some synonyms for the word: browbeat, coerce, terrorize, tyrannize. Hmm… that sounds an awful lot like what we are accusing all of our current enemies of doing. We are, after all, engaged in a war on terror. And our involvement in Libya is in support of a movement against tyranny. Coercion is a crime and I think we can all agree that browbeating is just mean.

So why do we tolerate it? And worse, why do we give in to this kind of behavior? I would argue that giving into a bully is unethical. It might be the easiest way for the confrontation to end but it reinforces bad behavior as effective, thus ensuring that it will go on. The bully hurts himself and others equally the longer he is allowed to continue. Which is why, when faced with a bully, a terrorist, a tyrant, you have to stand your ground.  Since reciprocity requires us to figure out a solution that works for both sides, we cannot allow one side to continue down a destructive path. In the end, that doesn’t work for anybody. Both sides lose. And contrary to the adage that you know a compromise was good when both sides are unhappy, a good compromise really should be a win-win.

And that’s my two cents.  In case you were interested.

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