From our nation’s beginning, we have viewed religious diversity as not merely acceptable, but in fact, our raison d’être. This liberal attitude about religion spread to other realms of culture and ethics and led to an American sense that diversity is not so bad. In fact, it can make you better. Where other national cultures are monolithic, ours is a patchwork. Our communities have developed natural attitudes and mechanisms whereby people could live together peaceably despite being very different. Our system functions on a premise that what’s right for me may not be what’s right for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as you respect my right to do my thing in my space. But what happens when our spaces overlap? We turn to something called “compromise”.
A strong case can be made that all this diversity, intermingling, and compromise have made America stronger and a world leader. When I was a kid, my parents pointed out to us that mixed breed animals were healthier than pure breds, and they emphasized that there was a lesson in there about America. That lesson was not lost on me. Our mixing has not only made us stronger, but also sensitive to the conditions of others, and it made us the most generous nation in the world. It has also kept the dogmatists on the fringes. The bulk of Americans politically position themselves in the middle, seeing the good in both the left and the right, but eschewing extremism.
Of course, there are those who call compromise “appeasement”, that is, giving in to evil. Today, we see this in the Tea Party. These folks believe with a religious fervor that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Period. No debate. No compromise. On the left we know this as “vanguardism”. The idea, which goes all the way back to Plato, is based on the premise that most people are basically morons and therefore, a small group of enlightened ones must rule. (Social Dems reject this, of course) So, while Michelle Bachmann may rant about a small group of Washington elites who think they know what’s best for America, she actually does believe in that concept. She just wants the existing small group of elites to be replaced by her own.
Although I am certainly no expert, I do have some experience in the world of compromise. I have been actively involved in labor negotiations for the past 20 years, from both sides of the table. And every single negotiation involves compromise. Without it, you can’t get to ‘yes’. Years ago, a program was developed at Harvard Law to teach negotiating skills. It’s scope is grand and students include political, business, and labor leaders from around the globe. Out of this program have come some well known concepts, like win-win negotiations, getting to yes, BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), and IBB (interest based bargaining). About 10 years ago I was fortunate enough to be a student in Harvard’s Program on Negotiation (PoN). The program I attended was specifically geared towards labor negotiations, but the lessons apply to just about any negotiation.
My wish would be that Tea Partyers go to school and learn about negotiation. Balancing the checkbook is not a religious experience; it’s about reducing your expenses and finding more income. They need to put down their Bibles and realize that not everyone agrees that Armageddon is a good thing. Other people have valid positions and the way you sort that out is through negotiation. It’s how we arrive at solutions without killing each other. One of the hallmarks of American society is our recognition that negotiation and compromise are good. It’s made America the nation that we are. And if the Tea Party Patriots really were patriots, they would know this.