When to Compromise & When Not to Compromise

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from “Some Needed Notes on American Character” by Robert E. Speer, published in 1917.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that almost all people descend to meet. All association must be a compromise. And the worst part is: the very flower and aroma of the flower, of each of the beautiful natures, disappears as they approach each other.

Now, the world tells us that such compromise is absolutely unavoidable. Men and women (we are assured) cannot get along in a world like ours without adaptations. If it is meant by this, only that we are often obliged to adapt ourselves to that with which we do not agree, why, of course, that is correct, because we are in a world of give and take, of which we have to be a part, and it is necessary for us to live our life and do our work in this world.

We cannot live at all, unless we are willing to adjust ourselves to the actual world. “Compromise” (when used as the principle of such adjustment) means simply that we must of necessity find room for ourselves among the crossing strands of life—and be forced at times to live under certain conditions, even if we do not agree with them.

However, we do not need to live under those conditions by CONDONING them. We can bear testimony against whatever we morally disapprove. We can assert our conviction by word (or by the silent protest of life) that those conditions are not right. And so, to live in the midst of conditions in which we do not believe, but from which we cannot escape, is not really “compromise”.

Compromise is when we surrender our principles to the degree that others do not understand what those principles ARE, or when we hold back something that is vital, or cover over deceptively or misleadingly something essential. When we take a position that is inconsistent with the position that we hold in our hearts, that is compromise, and that is wrong.

It is better to bear the burden of impracticality, than to stifle conviction and to pare away principle until it becomes mere triviality. Our resolution to search for the highest verities, to give up all and follow them, must become the supreme part of ourselves. Otherwise, the loss by compromise to ourselves and others is certain.

In the first place, one believes this because compromise makes no contribution to the settlement of the real issue over truth. It is true that all the boundaries between truth and error are not clear and sharply drawn lines. Often there is a gray and misty region between. And much truth is only slowly and gradually won. But the ideal of truth is clearer than the sun and as pure as the character of our ideals. And we have a far richer chance of winning it and all that it brings with it, if we both think and live it uncompromisingly.

I do not believe anyone was ever permanently helped by compromise—for it gets us into more difficulty than it removes, because compromise throws together things that are not congruous or reconcilable. This is its very nature. It brings into one bed things that cannot sleep together, into one union things that cannot be tied. And it postpones real settlements in the interest of spurious arrangements, sacrificing some “greater good” for the less, on no more creditable ground than that the less is nearer…..

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