What kind of community leader are you? - part 4, by Dr. Dominick Hankle
A top reason people cannot come together and find middle ground is the fact doing so means both groups have to compromise. Each group in the community has to say, “Okay, we’re willing to give up on trying to get everything we want in order to get something that benefits all of us.” Compromise is a trade-off in which no one gets everything they want however everyone gets something that works.
Compromise is the very thing our nation was founded on. Thirteen individual colonies came together and through compromise, they formed themselves into a nation. They become thirteen states united in their existence. Compromise is in the American DNA and it is actually one of the great strengths of our nation. Without compromise, we fail. This has happened to us numerous times in our nation’s history. When we can no longer compromise, no one wins. Everyone loses and the nation struggles and limps along until a compromise can be reached.
Are there times when a group should refuse to make compromises? Yes, there certainly are times when compromise is unacceptable. When we’re asked to do something that is morally wrong we shouldn’t compromise. When we’re asked to stray from our values and guiding principles, we shouldn’t compromise. The problem is if you ask most people in your community or organization what their guiding principles are, they have no idea. If the people in your community or organization have no idea what their guiding principles are, then you have no leadership. One of the most important functions of leadership is to advocate on behalf of a uniting vision. The uniting vision is the rallying point from which everything the group does flows. Once there is a common uniting vision, the groundwork for compromise is made possible because what is essential to the organization’s existence is clearly outlined, and second-level priorities can be negotiated.
I’ve spent many years as a marriage therapist. In order to get a couple to understand the importance of marriage, I usually provide them with a concrete example, otherwise, their current pain and negative attitude toward one another inhibits them from seeing how their behaviors are killing their relationship. To get their attention I tell them they’re both gardeners in a garden. I remind them they’re responsible for a garden, and in particular, a special tree in the corner of that garden. One of them has the soil and fertilizer to bring to the tree and the other has the water and tools to till the soil appropriately. Each has to give up some portion of what they have in order for the tree to thrive. The tree requires them to find ways to compromise in order for it to begin to sprout leaves and eventually give them tasty wonderful fruit. Marriage works in the same way. Each partner brings with them important characteristics, dispositions, and talents that make the relationship thrive. You can’t just do what you want with your own assets, you need to share them so that the marriage, something bigger than yourself, can thrive. That’s how a marriage works. That’s also how the community works.
Each subgroup in a community has talents, gifts, ideas, concerns, assets, and a multitude of positive experiences that make them who they are and allow them to do what they do in a way that’s uniquely their own. These talents, gifts, ideas, etc can be considered their strengths and can be very useful to the larger community if shared appropriately. However, they can’t simply bring these into the community and exercise every aspect of what they like to do just because it’s something they like, are good at, or makes them feel special and unique. The husband in a marriage who has a new shovel can’t just go digging in the garden and ignore what needs to be done to the tree. He needs to use that shovel to help with the common task and quit being selfish. If two groups within a community simply try and exercise their gifts in ways they want without regard to the other group, the two never merge and become one community. Each group has to find ways to compromise if they are going to be united in something bigger than themselves. They can’t ask each other to compromise on those things that are a core aspect of who they are or something that’s morally important, but they can ask one another to compromise on secondary things.
Here is the key point to consider. If two groups within the community know what unites them and are able to exercise their individuality while preserving community unity, they will compromise in order to serve and protect the common good. People are always stronger together than apart and most groups within a community know that. However, if leadership is more focused on division rather than communicating a unifying message, no one will share their tools to make the garden beautiful. The garden will become a mess of weeds and overgrown plants. If no one in leadership steps in to advocate for a unifying message the people in the community will not work together to make something beautiful. Instead, they will use their tools to beat the crap out of one another. So ask yourself this if you are in the position of a community leader; do you want people to use their gifts and talents as tools to build something beautiful or do you want them to beat one another over the head with their shovels. What kind of community leader do you want to be?