For the Problem of Compromise: Three Basic Rules

June 1st, 2010
Jim Thomas

The unavoidable problem of compromise lies at the root level of integrity and upright conduct—in every sphere of modern life.  It starts with the formation of opinion.  Once formed, the holder of a new idea, an opinion, or a proposal, for example, faces the timeless choices of whether to express and espouse them? He must then decide if their implementation has need of adjustment or modification.  Fortunately, there are brief but indispensable rules that govern these prickly dilemmas.  Their application is virtually universal.

Rule One.  It affects the formation of opinion and rests upon the proposition that truth is a supreme value.  Though commonly practiced, the lie is also universally condemned.

Holding fast to the truth is mandatory.  Any other position causes one to become an imposter to one’s self, as the sacredness of fact and reality lose impact.  This is nothing more than the axiom that when it come to making up one’s mind in the first place integrity compels one to pursue the truth whenever, wherever, and however one finds it.

Rule Two.  Concerns the expression of one’s opinion.  Silence can amount to a statement of consent.  Moreover, the expression of one’s beliefs can have a profound effect upon others.  Here lies a clue to the respect and trust we have for those determined to express their consciences and themselves, though their opinions are not readily adopted and may be rejected outright.  Integrity makes no demand we take this to the extreme.  It does not compel one to engage in a life of incessant disputation.  Rule Two, however, disallows a refusal to make known one’s views on matters of principle.  It compels their expression—honestly, independently, fearlessly—even if the proponent suspects it may never be adopted.  An admiring colleague who did not always agree with him said of Chief Justice Earl Warren, “The man stood up and was counted on every great issue of his age.”

Rule Three.  On can form a view and express it, but he must also consider the implementation of it.  At this final juncture, he may employ greater flexibility.  Holding a view and enforcing a view belong to different realities.  Herbert Spenser said there is an indispensable compromise between the older established norms and new ideas for doing things as perceived by their advocates.  The holder of a new proposal inevitably confronts the status quo, the customary way of doing things.

Rule Three incorporates the engagement of common sense.  The immoral compromise is to suppress or mutilate the proffer, for sake of conformity.  The moral compromise is to accept a partial adoption of one’s views—so long as the partial adoption is on the path toward its eventual complete adoption.  This is the sensible acknowledgment that one’s contemporaries are not yet prepared to embrace the new idea or to change to conform to it.  As Edmund Burke so aptly noted, integrity does not require one “… to press one’s ideas to the ends of logic.”

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