Compromise is often considered to be a good thing – just as we are taught to share toys as kids, we are also taught to share solutions.
If we can’t both get what we want, then reasonable adults will find a compromise – each getting a little of what they want while ceding some ground.
That might be all well and good if we’re debating something relatively trivial, but what about when it comes to issues of justice?
Then the best course is not so clear – if a full victory is beyond our reach perhaps a step towards justice is better than the status quo. Or, perhaps, a step towards justice will simply mollify the moderates, who will no longer feel the need to fight for more robust reform. On the other hand, refusing to compromise may earn you enemies – alienating moderates who might otherwise be willing to support your cause.
These are complex, strategic questions which every movement and activist must evaluate and consider.
Importantly, a wiliness to compromise for the good of the movement should not be confused with an instinctual response of conflict-avoidance.
Compromise can be good, but it should be a strategic choice – not a convenient dodge.
When debating such matters for myself, I’m reminded of the words of Charles Mackay in his poem No Enemies:
You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.