As I am writing this (towards the end of July 2011), the President and elected members of congress in Washington are engaged in a huge (or at least it is alleged to be huge) battle regarding raising the debt limit of the U.S. government. Should it be raised? By how much? Should it be a short- or a long-term increase in the debt ceiling? And so on. Politics is one of my least favorite interests so I do not profess to know the nuances of the various sides of this debate, but it appears that in order to pass legislation to increase the debt limit, some members of congress are also insisting that the deal include cuts in spending. Other members also insist that there be absolutely no increase in taxes. This post is not intended to give an opinion about which one of the various approaches I think is “right,” but more to make some comments on some of the dynamics I see at work there.
There appears to be a minority constituency in Congress that is very adamant and vocal that they will not compromise. They intend to stick to their principles no matter what. Therefore, their position is “right” and any other differing, competing viewpoint or opinion is “wrong.” I ask you: Would that inflexible, rigid attitude work in an intimate relationship? Would you want to be involved, even in a casual relationship, with someone who refuses to budge, who insists that she is right and you are wrong? Since when did insisting on “having it my way and only my way” ever work in any kind of relationship? I believe that “my way or the highway” mentality invites and even creates an equal opposing force. In fact, I hypothesize that this same group may have adopted their “no quarter given” strategy because they may have felt that in previous situations they had been forced to submit to more powerful others. This one-up-manship cycle will be never ending; there will be no eventual, ultimate “winner.”
Let me be clear: I am not arguing against holding deeply-held principles. I think having them is important and desirable. I suggest, however, that we not equate the insistence of being right with being true to one’s principles. I believe that we can hold deeply-held principles while also being open to negotiation and compromise. Does not getting my way automatically mean that I have sacrificed my principles? I do not think so. To me the great balancing act in any successful relationship is being true to oneself and aware of our needs and desires while also realizing that there is another person (or perhaps many others) who also has needs, wants, and preferences. Insisting on always being right with those we live with, work with, or interact with erodes goodwill and trust and will eventually prove disastrous. Sadly, much of what I see going on in Washington now—and in politics, in general—is a great deal of ego and posturing. Being “right” may temporarily bolster our ego, but it is a corrosive force in any relationship.
I will have much more to say about “ego” in future posts.