Friday, June 17, 2011

We Had It Tough

The human ego is such a funny thing. I don't know how we manage to have any relationships at all given some of our tendencies. Have you ever been in a bragging match about who has it worst? Here's a video of a comedy routine about what I mean.

Sorry to be cliché but, it's funny because it's true. I know people who have gotten really angry in conversations like this because what makes them feel special in this life is the suffering they have endured and if someone else has suffered more, or, if they are just claiming that they have, it undermines that thing that they believe makes them special or heroic. I've known people who you just can't vent to, or open up to about some tragedy or other because rather than show sympathy, they just have to prove that they've had it worse. Maybe all you've wanted from a conversation is a bit of sympathy and instead you got proof that if your friend got through something so much worse, you'll get through this, which, may help, but may also make you angry or hurt because your feelings have been so casually brushed aside as less important than their own.

I think that's the crux of it. Our ego wants to be important, maybe even the most important. Early on in high school I used to identify myself as someone with an inferiority complex. Towards the end of high school I realized that all I was really saying was "look at me!" which, was every bit as egotistical as endlessly touting some accomplishment.

 It may be true that bragging about one's accomplishments or good fortune and stepping on someone's feelings surrounding a rough patch because you had it worse are equally obnoxious, but, the later is easier. To brag about your accomplishments you probably actually have to have some.

People who try to build themselves rather than leave their lives up to circumstances will set small goals for themselves that they can easily accomplish as they work their way towards bigger things. This is a good technique and I find that it works, but, some of those steps seem so small in comparison to what people tend to brag about, that, bragging about them might lead to being emotionally undermined if people look at you as if what you are so proud of is of no importance. It's much easier to show how circumstances have been against you. However, everyone can play that game and there is always someone who has had it worse.

Now, we all want to be loved and we all want to share our victories and our defeats with our loved ones. Hopefully we have had, have, or will have loved ones that we can share the victories and defeats with but given the tendencies of the human ego. I think my best strategy is to try and not take myself too seriously. That way I don't have to worry about winning or losing these sorts of pissing matches.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Compromise is not a Dirty Word

A little while back, twice within a relatively short span of time it looked as if the Federal Government of the United States would shut down. The new Republican, mostly Tea Party driven, majority in the House of Representatives were demanding large budget cuts before approving spending measures that would allow the government to continue writing checks.

This has happened before of course. During the Clinton administration the government was shut down for a bit but once the Democratic president and the Republican legislators cut a deal it was back in business.

This time around it had me much more worried. My wife works in a VA hospital and is therefore a federal employee. When the government was shut down during the Clinton administration she was declared an essential employee and had to report to work anyway. This meant that for awhile she had to work without pay until the checks started flowing again. It wasn't that big a deal to us because I had a good job and we did get her back pay after the government started up again. This time around, I'm unemployed and her job and my unemployment benefits are our only sources of income. If the government had closed down we would have been in big trouble. My unemployment could probably have paid for food but certainly not our mortgage, car payments, utilities, gas etc. We could have lost everything in a prolonged stalemate between the branches of government. (And that fear isn't quite over yet, there is another possible shut down coming up soon.)

As the deadline approached and the talks didn't look like they were going well, I was really scared. Then I started reading a lot of stuff that changed that fear to anger. I have a lot of politically opinionated friends on both sides of the aisle and I expose myself to an awful lot of news and punditry so, I feel well informed and think I have a grip on what both sides of most questions think. Suddenly I was reading liberal commentaries (and I consider myself liberal) calling for President Obama not to "wimp out" by compromising. I also read a lot of conservative stuff screaming to conservative politicians not to compromise, that to do so would be a betrayal of the people who sent them to Washington to oppose business as usual.

I was glad that President Obama didn't listen to his base and compromised. I don't think it was because he was a wimp, I think it was because he actually cares about people in my situation. But when it came to the people making all the noise, I was livid. This wasn't about some ideological struggle about the best way to govern the country or get the economy back on track. This was about my wife and me becoming homeless. Liberal ideologues that I know felt that I should be willing to take one for the team, that I should be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Conservatives told me that in this case it takes three to tango and that a shut down wouldn't be the Republican representatives' fault but the Democratic Senators' and President's. I tried to remind the former that liberal politics are supposed to be about helping people, not about people taking one for the team and I tried to remind that latter that this wasn't happening until the Tea Party Republicans arrived in the capital and that I would certainly hold them responsible but that in any event, I wasn't interested in the blame game, I was interested in making sure that my wife's employer continued to pay her for work that they expected her to do whether the checks were going out or not.

Nobody's opinion seemed to be budged by my personal plight. The plans of the ideologies were what was important. The fact that compromise was weakness was what was important. I wondered, when did compromise become weakness? When did it become practically a dirty word to some people?

Compromise is not a dirty word and it is not weakness. Compromise is a fact of life that we all deal with every single day. No one likes compromise. By definition compromise means you don't get everything that you want but, since life involves dealing with other people, and people want different things, if we're going to deal with each other in a fair and reasonable way, then we have to compromise. When does anyone ever get everything that they want? If we don't as individuals, why would we as political parties? Compromise is also a part of self control. If you want conflicting things like, good health and to consume a quart of ice cream, you probably can't have both, but, you can cut a deal with yourself in which you treat yourself to some ice cream after doing something like, say, working out for a couple of hours. That's creating your own system of sticks and carrots but it's also a compromise between conflicting desires. We compromise with our friends, mates, families and co-workers. Whenever our desire conflicts with reality on any level, we compromise. So why in God's name wouldn't we compromise over things that effect millions of lives just to keep intact the purity of political agendas?

There are two reasons ideologues don’t want to compromise. The first is because they all have a master plan that will save the whole world and that plan will fall apart unless it is implemented in its entirety. This is a big mistake in their planning because no plan ever goes without a hitch and nothing is going to stop the existence of unanticipated consequences or the sudden appearance of unexpected problems. It's not possible for a plan to deal with everything that could happen so it's a bad idea to make a plan that can't be implemented in parts.

The second reason is good old fashioned ego and pride. My way is the best way so we have to do it my way or no way.

I know that people on both sides of these arguments feel that if they fail to get their way, millions will suffer. Okay, so, you're going to start your plan to stop millions from suffering by starting me to suffering?

People who want to play in politics in this country should spend some time learning American history and see that this country was built on compromise.

The writing of the U.S. constitution was an exercise in compromise. Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention with the title "The Great Compromiser" because he played a role in getting people with radically different ideas to compromise. The two most famous compromises to come out of the convention were "The Great Compromise" which created a Senate in which each state would get two representatives regardless of population so that small states wouldn't be at the mercy of states with much larger populations during the legislative process and the "3/5ths Compromise" in which slaves would be counted as 3/5ths of a person for the purpose of determining population and therefore representation in the House of Representatives. The Great Compromise is still debated today by those who favor a purely one man one vote system of government. The 3/5ths Compromise is still pointed to as a reason why compromise is bad. It allowed slave owners to have their cake and eat it too at the expense of a people in chains. However, without that compromise there would have been no constitution and very possibly no United States and there still would have been slavery. The 3/5ths compromise didn't create slavery, it allowed it to go on and allowed the slave holders a greater share of government than they perhaps deserved.

The Declaration of independence while written by Thomas Jefferson, as most people know, was done so as a part of a congressional committee process. After Jefferson wrote it, fellow committee members Ben Franklin and John Adams made changes and then the document was submitted to congress where eighty more changes were made. Each and every one of those changes was a compromise. Not the least of those changes was the striking of a paragraph that was anti slavery. John Adams was willing to scrap the whole document if that paragraph was stricken and he had to be persuaded by Ben Franklin that, in a new country, free states and slave states would have to live together and without this compromise there wouldn't even be a new country.

Thinking about the Declaration of Independence has gotten me thinking about the movie "1776" which is a musical about how the United Colonies of America declared independence and became the United States of America. I don't want this to become a movie review but for those of you who want to see compromise in action at the very start of our republic but don't particularly care for long dry history books I would recommend it. I know that musicals are only slightly more popular than long dry history books but if you can tolerate the music, it's an important film to see. It's not a history book, it's a movie, but, it's a very well researched movie that makes use of the founding fathers' diaries  and letters in making it as close to historical reality as a movie musical can be and it shows how our Independence from Britain was a compromise every step of the way. At the start of the movie, six colonies are for independence and six are against. New York can't make up its mind. I live in New York State. It still hasn't made up its mind. Highlights include South Carolina declaring that while it is against independence, it will join the revolution if all the other colonies decide that this is the way to go and the representative of Georgia who says that the people of Georgia are against independence, he is for it, and he has to decide whether the people who elected him just want him to vote the way they want him to, or if they've sent him there to rely upon his own wisdom and best judgment. While the debates rage on, George Washington is in the field with real men and boys, many of whom are about to die, as they face a force of British soldiers and German mercenaries who outnumber them five to one.

In any event, with a little knowledge of history I have to say that being unwilling to compromise is, well, un-American.

The Federalist Papers is a series of news paper articles written by three of the founding father's to convince the citizens of the United States to vote for the constitution.