“I’m single because I don’t compromise”… A friend recently said that, and I didn’t want to comment because he says he’s “okay with that” – and that is okay.

Wimbledon Tree and Fence Compromise

“Wimbledon Tree and Fence Compromise” by MsAnthea, flickr

Compromising, especially among couples, but also in wider social relations, down ( or is that up?) to the point of politics and religions, is what makes civilization, though. Not commenting because it would be telling others how they are to live, in matters where it should be their own choice, is compromising. Not telling others how to live but suggesting how they may live better (and, first of all, trying it out oneself) is compromising.

Learning to love and care about the world, not just one individual person, is a compromise between our biological urges towards parochial feelings and restricted caring and our ‘unnatural’ human capacity for abstraction and a widening of our feelings – and basically the same compromise, between biological urges towards promiscuity and the best material for offspring and, perhaps social/cultural, perhaps equally biological, pressures towards pair-bonding and exclusive fidelity and care, applies to our romantic love for “the one.”

Every day I wake up extra-early to get in some writing before more interruptions start, every other day my wife will call me and expect me to be at her side at once, ready to listen, talk, give her a massage. Of course, it’s not necessarily the nicest thing to be interrupted, but it’s the compromise that makes for a relationship, and it’s the behavior that shows the priorities that are expected and enacted.

Civility is built here, too. Annoyance over interruption is one possible reaction, but it won’t lead anywhere well. (Even if so many a personal development guide seems to suggest getting rid of any and all people who are “negative” and “who hold you back”, no matter if friends or family.) Not getting angry but realizing priorities and switching from thinking “What the hell do I have to do now?” to actually asking “What may I do for you?” changes the whole interaction.

Compromise, in the sense of a lowering of standards or expectations, is equally as necessary as compromise in the sense of mutual concessions. When we cannot accept anything but what we imagine, we are living in a dream world of our imagining, not in life as it is. More than likely, in being too caught up in our own imagining, it won’t just make us unhappy in the solipsism it entails, but it will also keep us from ever noticing what else there would be, unseen because we are too focused on the things we expected. That’s no way to approach things.

The opposite, however, also applies. We’ve become so good at being civil and compromising, at compromising our ideals and our very humanity, we want to allow everyone to just be him-/herself even if they never get themselves up and going anymore, and we want to never have to be told or tell how to live, even if the only thing it’s really compromising is their/our own (and often, other’s) health and the integrity of the very Earth system we all depend on. Humanity, even.

We agree to disagree, agree to quit talking about anything because we might not like the answers it may lead to, purport to promote individual freedom when we are just letting individualism run rampant – and it’s not even individualism so much as egotism and narcissism run amuck, characters that never developed from the childish self-centeredness to the truly grown-up strength necessary to face the very likely possibility that we can’t have everything the way we alone want.

Not to forget that it’s all too often dreams of consumption, be that of material riches or luxurious experiences, of a freedom without bounds, that we are being led to follow thanks not just to individualist-consumer cultures, but also marketing and advertisements and the usurpation of any and all happiness and meaning by goods. But, even as we get caught up in some of the promises of consumer culture, sometimes, of course, we are also quite well aware of the ways it just tries to bend us into certain schemas and follow all the same rules.

It’s interesting to note, too, because there’s all the talk about individualism, for good and bad, but actually, we are all very much pushed towards quite a strong uniformity. Be yourself!, but only as long as it’s not too different and doesn’t lead you to actually find out and do just what you need and want and not what you are being told to do. Get to be too different – let alone, be different because of your looks – and you’ll suffer, though.

But again, the criticism often stops there, but forgets that a civilization is built on compromise. A life without any rules and borders is not one that can work for a society, nor does it even make for a good life for a person. There’s a reason why life-hacking is so concerned with the schedules of productive people (aside from how well it fits into the schema of personal responsibility and quick hacks and the social pressure to be productive über alles). It takes limits and challenges to encourage creativity, routines to think differently, good habits to do better.

Time and again, the more we try to live aside from the messiness and paradoxes of reality, in a perfect world of our imagining, the more we need to compromise our chances for good lives and better living, just because we build up ideas that can’t quite work, looking for a perfection that just isn’t there.

We’ll need to learn to compromise better, more aware, especially in dealing with just how imperfect and paradoxical and messy and often, because of all that, frustrating – but also fascinatingly diverse and full of surprises – this our world really is.