As defined by Merriam-Webster, a compromise is a “settlement of differences by consent reached by mutual concessions.” Compromising is an ever-present buzzword that floats around everywhere from politics to our daily lives. It requires relinquishing at least a portion of your beliefs for the greater good, with the intent of finding common ground within disagreement. When dealing with any kind of argument or difference of opinion, people are quick to suggest – “Just compromise!” – as if it’s the obvious default solution. But when should we compromise?
Personally, I know that it can be difficult to resist the pressure to be agreeable. Going back to Merriam-Webster, synonyms of “agreeable” include “enjoyable,” and “likable.” Antonyms include “unpleasant.” No one wants to be unpleasant. No one wants to be difficult. Disagreeing can cause discomfort, whereas simply going along with the majority is like lying back on a lazy river, closing your eyes and enjoying the ride to the end. It’s easier, and it causes much less friction.
There’s definitely a time and a place for compromising. But there’s also a time and place to be disagreeable, even if it requires a bit more effort. Unfortunately for us, the line between the two can be blurry. Compromising is an important tool, because it’s impossible for everyone to share identical opinions and perspectives. Sometimes compromising can be a win-win situation where the problem is resolved, and everyone can move forward. However, more often than not, if someone agrees to compromise too easily, it becomes a lose-lose situation where everyone is left disappointed to varying degrees. What’s crucial to figure out – to avoid any post-compromising regret – is which beliefs you’re willing to meet someone halfway on and which you aren’t.
I usually try to find this distinction by considering the difference between needs and wants. If I need something, it’s not a part of my life I’m willing to compromise about. However, if something falls under the “want” category, I’d be willing to alter my perspective and find some sort of middle ground. For me, needs are non-negotiables and values that I could never imagine myself faltering on, even if compromising is tempting. Wants, on the other hand, tend to be materialistic or trivial things that won’t actually have a lasting impact – and sometimes it’s easier and more satisfying to be flexible.
Contact Elizabeth Dunn at email@example.com ‘at’ stanford.edu.