“Don’t low-ball your opponent”
the late Dr. Verne C. Bechil told us. It was a mediation and negotiation course and this was the teaching he wanted us to take to heart. It has stuck with me for more than 15 years. Do not “low-ball” your opponent. Don’t disrespect them, for that only brings antagonism.
Shortly after this, we were invited to role-play a negotiation. I was to represent a husband in a divorce. It was bound to be a pretty straight-forward settlement. No injury to his spouse, some properties of value. I saw no reason why a testy exchange was even necessary. When I walked in, I said as much. Let’s figure out how we can split this so we can both walk away happy, I suggested.
The other negotiator said “No. The highest you’ll get is 30%.” Two minutes later, I was walking out of the room angry and without a deal.
Despite the media coverage, prone to seeing negotiations and politics as sport—with winners and losers and constant jockeying for more—most of what we do is discovering and negotiating compromise. I made the mistake of thinking we could start there. That we didn’t have to work our way to it. Some of our friends in Washington have made that same mistake. But let us not confuse that desire as their position.
The desire to compromise is not a position. It is the rational result of seeking order from existing chaos. Compromise isn’t partisan. It isn’t weak. It isn’t ridiculous. It isn’t liberal or conservative. It isn’t traditional or new.
Compromise is how we get to peace.
It is through compromise that we are able to find a win-win proposition. This is the amazing part of it. We don’t have to stop at a compromise. We don’t have to stop with “everyone eating their peas”. We can find a way to make (nearly) everyone happy.
We can do this as long as we stop seeing compromise as the enemy. Or the enemy’s desire. It is also our desire.
The biggest sticking point isn’t the majority or the minority. It is that 7-12% that refuse to be happy. Those who can’t be happy with a win/win or a compromise. They can’t be happy with a negotiation. They can’t be happy when they get the pain off their chest. They can’t be happy when someone else is happy. For as long as I am happy, it means they don’t have what they really want. And even if they had it…they wouldn’t be happy.
Like the Sadducees in this Sunday’s gospel or the atheist with a straw-man argument or the temperamental Christian unmoved by having 7/8 of what he wants, there is no negotiating: no compromise is possible with these few. They aren’t wired for happiness.
What we all want more than peace and reconciliation and to be right and to win is joy. Real, profound, deep-seeded joy. Joy in life and worship and work and being. Joy.
Joy can only be found by those who cultivate it; who negotiate and compromise and feel the struggles of others as keenly as their own. Compromise isn’t where we start, but it is the work we do. We aren’t seeking compromise: we are seeking joy and working with compromise to attain it for all.