I have heard the basic trope that “a good compromise is one in which neither side is happy” from both pundits and politicians often enough in the past few months that I feel it needs to be addressed. At first I thought it was being used to just gloss over criticism of particular deals, but it seems many people in Washington actually believe that this is the warped standard by which compromises should actually be judged. It’s as if dealmaking is some form of masochistic foreplay and they can’t get off unless they see others suffering. It seems to go hand-in-hand with the belief in Washington that the only way to to be considered “serious” is by demanding others sacrifice.
Any specialist in conflict management will likely tell you that a good compromise is one that all sides involved are reasonably happy with. A deal that all sides are unhappy with is considered one of the worst possible resolutions to a problem. It gives all parties an incentive to break the deal later and can make it hard to get compromises in the future.
The “neither side should be happy” standard is a horrible way to judge any compromise, be it in government, business or personal affairs. As simply a general principle it is idiotic.
Image by DonkeyHotey under Creative Commons license