Tomorrow is Not Promised, So Compromise Today

Compromise. A bad word in the English lexicon, right? Don’t ever compromise, we are warned as some kind of encouragement to grab for that proverbial brass ring. There’s the famous Compromise of 1850, for example — not a good thing whatsoever. It has been drilled into us that compromise is for those not willing to take what they want, which of course is the American Way. In 1928 the Lincoln Motor Company advertised that their cars were “for those who accept no compromise.” Fifty years later Winston Cigarettes claimed “no compromise” on taste when it came to their new Winston Lights. Recently Fossil Watches admonished us, “Don’t compromise this season.” And just this March, Nissan came out with a campaign that exhorted us to, “Refuse to compromise.” In this particular ad we see some all-too-familiar-type man informing his female employee that she will not be getting the promotion she clearly expected. Then some woman in a sporty Nissan drives up to the scorned lady, tells her to drop her taco and hop in the car for a good lecture on the perils of compromise. (What’s that got to do with sexism in the workplace)? Herein, I believe, lies the origin of our problems today, if I may be so bold as to make such a claim. It’s time we reimagine compromise.

Today our church met for worship for the first time since March 15th. (Beware those Ides)! It felt so good to see people, to hear live music, to listen to our pastor preach the Word in person. (Zoom has gotten on just about everybody’s last nerve). The sun was out, the breeze was blowing, and we celebrated together in that moment. And yet, it was most assuredly a compromise. Masks; no sanctuary; no hugging at a church that has as its foundation physical connection; lots of people missing. Had we held such a service pre-pandemic we would have been disappointed. But instead, this compromise felt especially sweet, highlighting as it did the resiliency of our humanity. It wasn’t how we wanted things to be at the moment, but thanks to creativity and effort we spent a beautiful day together. Now, some of our members may well have stayed home because they were not interested in compromising. As in, I’ll go back to church when church looks like the church I knew. But most everything we knew isn’t going back to the way it was. And, as we know, that is not necessarily such a bad thing.

The U.S. Open is in progress right now. It’s always been my end-of-the-summer pilgrimage. A sort of send-off to my favorite season in the midst of my favorite sport. This year the Open is happening but fans are not invited. Instead, giant video screens are on court, with Zoom-like squares filled with fan faces. The changeovers include boisterous music to keep the energy high for the players. There’s even canned applause. (I keep waiting for one of the chair umpires to repeat the ubiquitous phrase, “quiet please,” but I guess they just don’t have that sense of humor). Do you know I wasn’t going to watch the Open this year? It wasn’t going to be the same and I didn’t want to see my event in this compromised state. Why? What are we afraid of when we eschew compromise? (Because all resistance has something to do with fear). Are we afraid of learning new things? Foregoing identities, disbanding long-held beliefs? For sure those are all scary prospects. Maybe the fear is that we will realize that it wasn’t really the live music, the pews, the fans, or the cold beer that made these experiences. What if we learn that we are the experiences, that we create our experiences within ourselves ? Then, if we are not having good experiences, it may just be on us.

Think about the people you know who are making the best of this pandemic. They have gone through some stuff — are still going through some stuff — yet they exude grace and gratitude, joy and even humor. How do they do that? Answer: they are not afraid of compromise, not afraid it will lessen them, that it will make them look weak or without aspiration. Our society has told us forever that we gain nothing by compromising. Our country’s history is one of little compromise; if one group of people doesn’t want to do exactly what the other group of people in power want to do then off with their heads and on with the shackles. Yeah, it’s pretty clear we shouldn’t be compromising if we want to stay America-strong. Like: don’t wear masks, don’t follow social gathering rules, and by all means complain to the slow cashier at Trader Joe’s who’s probably got a couple other things on their mind beside your avocados, blue corn chips and pineapple salsa. Yeah, you’re not gonna take it!

The fact is that the definition of a compromise entails all folks giving in a little. It’s the we’re all in this together anthem, the buying of a gift certificate at a local shop that maybe is a bit out of your budget but you really want that place to survive. It’s the keeping your mouth shut when someone cuts in front of you because maybe they’ve got troubles at home you can’t even imagine. It’s like cheering for Serena Williams from in front of your laptop because she’s so damn inspirational. And it’s like singing, “God Lifts Us Up” through a cheery Van Gogh Sunflowers mask that a friend gave you, being grateful for the sun and the wind and the love that surrounds you. So go ahead, try some compromise. I think it can take us a mighty long way.

One thought on “Tomorrow is Not Promised, So Compromise Today

  1. This is a poweful essay, Katie, and a perfectly timed reminder for me. As I dig deep to access my own enthusiasm and passion for my re-imagined work as a teacher, I realize how important it is to let go of what was and lean into what is–and, more importantly, what can be. Compromise is a good way to frame that transition. I’m hoping that the next phase of this journey is so unexpected, so new and so unimaginable that I can’t even think of a word to describe it yet.

    Cheers to compromise and the even-better thing that comes next…


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