The False Allure Of Compromise

Many years – decades – ago, when we first began to work with large, complex organizations, we made the decision that we would help them achieve consensus or we would not take our projects further.

The distinction between consensus and compromise is a critical one, especially when working to achieve a common solution in a complex organization – and even more so in a nation of diverse political interests and people.

Compromise is a cop-out.  It’s an unsatisfactory, lowest common denominator situation.  It’s not an answer, and it never works in the long run, as it requires people have to give up their closely held beliefs or positions, which is rarely possible. The distinction between consensus and compromise is a critical one, especially when working to achieve a common solution in a complex organization – and even more so in a nation of diverse political interests and people.  When compromise is the basis for a solution, people in each culture or camp have to give up something of fundamental importance to them in order to reach the compromise. (From compromissum – meaning consent reached by mutual concessions.)  Compromise is a recipe for continual conflict and strife, and it creates resentment and animosity, even over insignificant decisions.

To paraphrase a quotation from Einstein[1], a problem cannot be solved at the level of the problem.  To attempt that is to try to slug it out, where neither opponent has any advantage.  Rather, it is necessary to rise to a different system’s level, from which the parties can see the whole landscape.  Rising to that new level implies that the parties can then share those similar perspectives. This is the foundation for consensus (from cōnsentiō – meaning literally to feel together, or agreement.) It builds a foundation for the development of truly shared values and long-lasting relationships.  It generally derives from a vision that is shared and actually felt by those participating

I have the feeling that it’s no accident that I’m writing this on Martin Luther King Day.   Dr. King had a dream, a vision for the United States.  He saw that “now is the time to make real the promises of democracy” and that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  So what do we need to do to accomplish that?   What do we all love and share about the United States that we can use as the foundation for consensus?

I’m an immigrant.  I came to the US because I loved the ideals on which it was founded.  I have traveled 49 of the 50 States.  I love the country and the people – all of them.  I had to return to the UK for a number of years for family reasons, but I yearned to come back.  Over dinner in England, my American husband and I listened to music that reminded us of America – America the Beautiful, Country Roads, God Bless the USA…and more… all of which spoke to the vision. I love the beauty and the vastness of America.  I love the sense of freedom.  I love the friendliness of the people in country towns and urban areas – greeting me, a stranger.  I love the differences in culture and food and accents and ways of life.  I love that I can ask for the assistance of anyone, anywhere, and will get a friendly answer.  I love the passion and the quirkiness expressed by so many different people across the country.

These are the kinds of things that make America special to me.

I would love to get a group of politicians of both parties plus independents together, to go through one of our transformational workshops (of the sort we have conducted for military and commercial organizations) and to arrive at a truly shared vision of what we want for America – and then to turn that vision into actionable strategies and policies for many things, but especially regarding immigration.

Uncontrolled borders are not the answer anywhere in the world.   I worked on the Channel Tunnel project in the UK/France many years ago, and it was clear that people need barriers to give them a sense of safety, security, and belonging, and to control passage of illegal drugs, criminals and terrorists.  

If people come to America, then they need to have a good reason other than just an opportunity to make money.  They should want to become Americans, as I did, and to abide by the laws of the land.

Yet we need to recognize that there will be refugees who see America as a safe haven, and we should not ignore those facing humanitarian crises.  So we need a balance and an acceptable approach to immigration.  I don’t have the answers today, but I am convinced that one can be found if we “cool our jets” and develop a shared vision of what might be possible, and if that means putting fences in place in the short-term, that’s a small price to pay.  We shouldn’t allow political enmities and partisan politics destroy the goodness and generous spirit that we have.


Christine MacNulty
Christine MacNulty
CHRISTINE MacNulty has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic -planning for concepts as well as organizations, futures studies, foresight, and technology forecasting, technology assessment and related areas, as well as socio-cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and the Services, NATO ACT, NATO NEC, the British Army’s Force Development & Training Command, and the German BBK. Prior to that her work was in the commercial arena where she had Fortune Global 500 clients. During the last thirty-five years Christine MacNulty has contributed methods and models for understanding social and cultural change through people’s values. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1989. She is the coauthor of two books: Industrial Applications of Technology Forecasting, Wiley, 1971 and Strategy with Passion – A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, August 2016. Her paper: “Method for minimizing the negative consequences of nth order effects in strategic communication actions and inactions” was published in NATO Defence Strategic Communications Journal, p 99, Winter 2015. Two monographs “Truth, Perception & Consequences” (2007) and “Transformation: From the Outside In or the Inside Out” (2008) were published by the Army War College. Perceptions, Values & Motivations in Cyberspace appeared in the IO Journal, 3rd Quarter, 2009, and The Value of Values for IO, SC & Intel was published in the August 2010 edition of the IO Journal.

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