Political divides in America are deep and seemingly unbridgeable. Our leaders in Washington provide no leadership but instead tear the country further apart. What are we to do? We must learn to compromise.

Can we ever learn? First, we must nurture what physicist Richard Feynman called “the humility of the intellect,” the realization that all human knowledge is uncertain to some degree. Believers might say that only God’s knowledge is certain. Dogma, which is created by mortals, may guide us in private but is best kept out of politics.

From humility follows respect for opposing views. We all prefer to be reassured in our beliefs, and we respond in anger when they are challenged. But we must summon the strength to overcome this tendency. We must learn to listen dispassionately to the opinions of others. Compromise is hard, but there is no other way to solve our collective problems or find fulfillment as a society.

There is much derision of compromise as a problem-solving strategy because the center is seen as a wishy-washy position of mediocrity. It is not. Aristotle wrote of the Greek idea of the golden mean: the optimal quality lies between two extremes. For example, between cowardice at one extreme and recklessness at the other lies courage, the optimum.

The principle applies in politics. Compromise is not a display of weakness. Instead, it is a search for the optimum, for the best that can be achieved. It provides a solution that most can live with but that few will be completely delighted with. This is the best we can do.

Compromise is fundamental to the art of politics. Unfortunately, too many of our political leaders today either lack the skill or have no interest in practicing it. We should elect leaders who have both.

Michael P. Bacon


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