There’s an old joke about a married couple that decides to “compromise” on their differing desires for ideal vacation venue.
Husband wants The Magic Kingdom in Florida. Wife wants Disneyland in California.
So they agree to compromise — splitting the difference. They end up in the Oklahoma Panhandle for two weeks.
Earlier this year, I wrote in another context about this almost holy grail of divorce mediation tactics, too frequently imposed upon spouses. “Everyone’s gotta give a little,” goes the bromide. Sold on the unsubstantiated assumption that “we all want the same thing.”
Now it’s almost become cliché to cite 1 Kings 3:16-27 where Solomon tests two women arguing for custody of the same baby. He says he’ll split the little bundle of joy in two, giving each a roughly equal half. The Solomon ploy uniquely worked because:
- There was an actual truth to be found;
- The alternative to not surrendering was death; and,
- One of the parties was undoubtedly an idiot
I might further add that I have yet to see any decision-maker reference or suggest following Solomon’s lead based on evidence of wisdom even in the neighborhood of Israel’s great king. “Split the baby” pontifications more often just reveal laziness on the part of those who society has apparently without good cause trusted to make tough decisions.
“Compromise” isn’t a word I’m able to readily find in my New International Version (NIV) translation. I suspect this is because it’s so difficult to reconcile with values. See “yield,” as used in Isaiah 48:11 — as pejorative.
Divorce mediations, or divorce negotiations, if you prefer, based merely on compromise for the sake of compromise are meaningless.
It’s how married couples end up in Oklahoma. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Oklahoma (indeed: Of particular concern is that there is nothing inherently wrong with Oklahoma). It’s just not Disney-anything (the actual common ground, overlooked). Worse still, a superficial, if not blindly obsessive drive to compromise actually results in an outcome less satisfying, less unifying, more likely to drive the parties apart.
The lesson of 1 Kings 3:16ff is actually that there are some things that defy compromise. That true compromise requires clear, shared values.
That basis doesn’t always exist. And even where it does, it takes work and skill to get to that foundation.