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the creativity of compromise

July 30, 2011

What a week. House Republicans succeeded in bringing to the brink of disaster, and are showing every intention of taking us over the edge. The blogosphere is starting to speculate that their plan might actually be to force Obama to invoke the 14th amendment and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally so that they can begin impeachment proceedings against him for doing so. Last November I predicted they’d find a reason to do that within the year.

I really like to think people can see what’s happening and judge for themselves who is responsible. But a bad economy is bad for a sitting president, even when he inherited it and has had it exacerbated by the other party’s fiscal insanity. Obama is the president people can vote out of office, regardless of who caused their problems.

It’s amazing to watch what is actually a very small percentage of Americans hold the rest of us hostage. An Economist poll shows why this is so: 70% of Republicans do not want their leaders to compromise. Ever. Only thing is, things only ever get done when we compromise. No one gets what they want 100% of the time.

I used to teach theater at a tiny rural college with a self-selecting population; it’s a school that does not have any requirements or majors, so many students come there to goof off. But many are also fiercely independent and are there because damnit no one can tell them what to study. Some of the theater students were like that, and as a result they had difficulty working with one another. None of them ever wanted to compromise, which meant that they were unable to actually collaborate. They were unable to accept one another’s ideas, to incorporate them into their thinking, and unable to introduce ideas of their own which would be accessible to other people. (Not surprisingly, the performance aspect of the program ended up consisting almost entirely of one person shows that had been both written and directed by the performer.)

You simply can’t make theater this way. Nor can you run a business this way. Nor a government. The jobs are too big. In order to get big things done people have to work together, and that means sometimes going along with other people’s ideas. And, yes, that means not always getting everything you want, but that’s really not the most useful way to look at it. We need to shift our thinking from the idea of compromise to that of collaboration. Successful problem solving, wherein a group evaluates its options and makes decisions collectively, happens through a creative process. Allowing your ideas to be improved on and incorporated by other people is actually a good thing. Combining ideas, even when it requires adjusting them to work with one another, usually results in better ideas.

Solving our economic problems is going to require creative thinking from everyone. Democrats are finally willing to make huge cuts to all of their pet programs in the interest of putting the country back on sound fiscal footing. The Republicans have shown no such willingness to collaborate.

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