Blue. It represents peace and serenity like the peace I find in still, blue waters. With all the haggling going on in Congress, I have spent a lot of time thinking about compromise and its place in my life. I wondered: Is there a relationship between compromise and compassion? What is the difference between real compromise and just giving in?
Well. It seems to me that real compromise, in its essence, requires listening to and accepting another’s point of view. Listening punctures the balloon of pride and arrogance. Acceptance generates empathy and compassion. Empathy fractures the rigid spine of self-righteousness. This makes the experience of compromise a win-win for everyone involved. No one — and no group — gets everything they want all of the time without slip-sliding into despotism.
For me, the lessons in compromise are up front and personal.
I compromise whenever I agree to stay with my aging mother so that my brother and his family can take a few days together. It is a compromise because of the hair-on-fire relationship I’ve had with my mother for at least 50 of my 63 years. Being with her for long periods of time has never been easy, and now that she is living with dementia I find the time I spend with her even more challenging. I compromise and spend the time because everyone needs a break.
My sister calls it “time travel” when Mom forgets that I am her daughter and thinks I am her dead sister. After saying three times that “I’m Sala, Mom” and seeing the look of confusion — or is it fear? — in her face, I drop it. I compromise. I don’t say who I am anymore and she becomes peaceful. In an eerie kind of way, it’s the way it’s always been. She wants me to be someone other than who I am. When she gathers leftovers and goes to the porch to call the dogs that were a part of her childhood on the farm…my heart breaks. I have always wanted her to be happy. Caring for an aging parent with dementia requires compromise.
Many years ago, I asked my mother, “Don’t you think God put us here to
be happy?” She replied firmly, “No.” Seeing her unhappiness now, I know how true this is for her, and it triggers my compassion.
I compromise when Mom forgets that she ate dinner an hour ago and complains that she hasn’t eaten all day. I have made the assumption that she is trying to bury her life’s sorrow with food, when I try to remind her that she’s already had three meals. She becomes agitated and angry as if I am intentionally trying to hold food from her. My cousin, who knows about these things, says she is eating like the diabetic that she is and I should stop trying to convince her that she’s already eaten. Which, for God’s sake, is more important: her being at ease or my being right? Caring for an aging parent with dementia requires compromise.
Standing silent in the face of abuse is not compromise. Accepting shaming, blaming, demeaning or contemptuous behavior from a spouse, family member or employer is not compromise. Holding one’s thoughts inside out of fear of retribution is not compromise. It’s fear. Compromise in its essence also requires one to speak one’s mind; to share one’s truth of things. Standing silent is not compromise.
Compromise is the right thing to do because, damn it, we live in community with others — whether we want it or not; whether we like it or not. Compromise is what makes a democracy different from communism or a theocracy; from a monarchy or a dictatorship. Compromise is what keeps any particular group or person from becoming a despot in the United States. Compromise is what makes democracy work. No one will ever have it all his or her way in a democracy. So what’s all the fighting about?
Compromise brings serenity, and in a deeper way compassion generates compromise. And deep, deep down inside, aren’t both what we’re all about?