Compromise

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I understand what it’s like to be stuck in life. I know what it’s like to hate the feeling of personal and professional compromise.

Right off the bat, we wake up in the morning and we are asked to drink skim milk instead of whole. We drive our kids to school in crappy foreign and American cars that they aren’t well made, have poor gas mileage, and display little innovation. We drive on roads that are falling apart even though we pay our local and state property taxes. The schools where our children attend are failing, and performance in those schools is assessed on mediocre standards. When we finally get to work, we are employed at a job we don’t really love because, really, who loves being an accountant or lawyer or bank teller? We deal with people all day long who are just like us — cranky & sick of compromise — and then we leave work, pick up the kids, and face a horrible commute back to our homes that many of us can’t afford.

We compromise all day long. Sometimes we compromise because we are lazy or scared, but mostly we make choices because it’s what we need to do to survive and provide better lives for our children. Instead of being offered the tools and resources we need to succeed, we are told that hustling isn’t good enough unless we are reaching an imaginary pinnacle of self-actualization. It’s not enough to hustle. We must love what we do and make a real difference in the world.

That’s all fine & good, but many of us will never have the opportunity to capitalize on our dreams because credit markets are frozen and banks aren’t lending to small businesses, the unemployment rate won’t come down in a meaningful way, and companies are caught up in a quest for productivity instead of innovation. We blame our fellow citizens for their lack of access to both capital and power, but the richest 1% owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000. That was ten years ago, and things are not much better in 2010.

I actually don’t mind compromise if we keep our egos in tact and understand why we make choices. I’m glad that immigrants come to this country and compromise for their children and future generations. No one wants to work in factory-farms in Nebraska or pick blueberries in the fields of Michigan, but sometimes we do things we don’t want to do. That’s part of being an adult. I’m glad that Americans clear tables at fast food restaurants or work the check-out lane at Target. The entrepreneurial spirit and personal generosity behind these acts of labor is lost when just assume that people who compromise are just phoning it in.

I’d love for the American worker to stop compromising and be all that we can be, but I fear there will be anarchy and panic on the streets if the labor force finally gets its act together. Self-actualization is a nice concept in a book. In real life? Heads will roll. Markets will be disrupted in ways that economists can’t predict. Political structures will be damaged.

Not that any of this is a bad thing. Not that it’s never too late to stop buying into the system that keeps us down. I just wonder if the self-appointed gurus who want us to ‘stop compromising’ and start thinking about our lives differently are ready for the change. Are they willing to do more than pay lip service to the problems at hand? Are they willing to be held accountable for their efforts to fix the problems in this country? What will happen when they are revealed to be part of the system that propagated fear and profited from the disintegration of the middle-class?

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