Compromise: A Good or Bad Idea?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Compromise is a word striking the same chord as the word traitor. It’s hard to find anything reputable about it, though in politics it seems to find an acceptance niche.

It usually seems to stand in stark contrast to conviction or steadfastness, which are admirable qualities. It smacks of weakness, and of willingness to give in before the strength of a different opinion or position. A weakling is one who compromises, and is willing to change position when confronted with a contrary opinion. A frequently cited instance of compromise is the capitulation of Arthur Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, by signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler, at the beginning of the Second World War. Nonetheless, most of us probably compromise at one time or another, and feel ashamed about it.

On the other hand, its opposite is found to be not much more appealing: stubbornness or the intransigence of “bullheadedness”. This is the stance of one who never changes his/her mind, and brooks no opposition to his/her position. It’s the position of “my way or the highway”. Perhaps the example of Harry Truman comes to mind when we think of the sign on his desk: “the buck stops here”. While we may like to deal with the compromiser because we often get our way with such a one, we hate to negotiate with the stubborn person because we seldom win before one who never gives in.

Compromise is usually the stance taken before two lines of action: seemingly, one better, the other worse. A compromiser doesn’t like to think he or she is backing off from a good position and allowing something less desirable to happen. However, backing off a good position doesn’t necessarily mean we are adopting an evil one. We may try to maintain that compromise entails a less than good option. We prefer the word “negotiate”, while critics may call it giving in, or succumbing, or backing off—a cowardly thing.

But supporters say: not so fast, because they see it as a way of preserving at least a segment of the good, if not its entirety. Is it not a mistake to achieve no good at all rather than gain at least a token of something good? One may counter by saying that one’s integrity and honesty have been preserved provided that doesn’t smack of a kind of selfishness or self-satisfaction enabling one to say: “I avoided any semblance of evil”, but, should this be at the price of achieving no other good whatsoever?

So some say the only way to get something good done is to compromise and give in. But others reply; that’s too steep a price to pay. Shading the truth to save a life, stealing medicine to help a sick person, injuring one person to protect another, keeping a promise that will cause more harm than good, engaging in a just strike that hurts the businesses of others, harboring a refugee in violation of the law. When is the good I try to do not good enough to avoid being or doing evil?

How much good should I strive to do? How much evil must I seek to avoid? Can I compromise on either?

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Mowing, Monasteries and the Mind

Mowing

Lawns are curious by nature. Originally created by the upper class of the renaissance and indoctrinated into the middle class spawned by the industrial revolution, the lawn serves many purposes. Lawns are an external statement of status, personally and socially. They are statements about our standards of work, lifestyle and our expectations of the neighbors. In a sense, lawns are cosmetic and unnatural however, they have the potential to serve far more than mere superficial purposes. Grooming grass requires physical presence but little mental agility. In the business world and more and more interpersonally, ideas and answers are expected to be instantaneous as the millisecond responses to high speed internet computer requests. Time to contemplate is regarded as down time and wasted or dumb. The inner sanctum of free thought finds few places to abide. The shower is too brief, the men’s or ladies room stop even shorter and random thoughts are forced out while exercising by the hip new gadget known as an Ipod. Perhaps using a lawnmower is the elevation of mind experience needed by western civilization and is exercised subliminally by those who do it regularly.

 

Patterns are typically followed when mowing the lawn thus liberating the full attention of the mind. . Certainly, people have various attitudes while performing lawn work. The obsessive compulsive may carefully cut on a diagonal and cross cut twice while the ‘waste no time’ folks try to cut in a continuous strip. Opportunities to think about things large and small are overlooked by not merely going slowly back and forth.

 

Monastic ritual, rich in patterns of prayer and behavior was widely regarded as an enlightened lifestyle of those closest to God. It seems hard to imagine how a person could be a reclusive monk just praying all day, day after day. They would still do chores, read and recreate however, their attitude set the mind free for higher reflection. Turning the mundane but necessary tasks of daily life into productive reflection brings to mind the vaunted skill currently referred to as multitasking. Thinking with a clear mind is not as easy as it sounds with all the clatter available and seemingly unavoidable almost everywhere. Alone in a desert, the distractions faded away for the biblical holy men. Jesus spent forty days in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for the fulfillment of the promise God made with his flesh and blood on Calvary.

 

Great things need to be conceived in the mind and thought out and planned ahead. A desert, monastery or walking along a beach provides entrée to a place of solitude. Unfortunately few people have convenient access to such as these. Reviewing the past, putting the present into perspective and anticipating ways to make tomorrow a better day are all ways to enjoy the benefits of therapeutic contemplation. Many important revelations are there for the taking by simply slowing down while mowing the lawn.

Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion

More on the science of compassion:

In 1969 the U.S. Government set up a lottery for the draft. Being 25 years old at the time, I was affected. In fact, I was number 36, which meant that a week later I was off getting a pre-induction physical.

 

I wanted to sign up as a conscientious objector, but being Catholic, I couldn’t do that. Catholic Theology held that there was such a thing as a just war. If I were going to succeed in that strategy of protest against the Viet Nam War, I would have to renounce my religion and join the Quakers or some other religion that held no such beliefs. Of course, if I did that, I’d be accused of just trying to avoid combat. As a Catholic, I could not sign up as a Conscientious Objector, but was expected to join in this “just” war.

 

So here I am 40 plus years later and although I’m too old and there is no draft, we in the United States are still talking war. I’m reminded of the words of Pete Seeger in his song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone: “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?” In this Ted Talk, Karen Armstrong tells the moving story of a much earlier war, the Trojan War and about the three characters of Achilles, Hector and Priam. More importantly she tells us what she believes is religion’s role in stopping this craziness. She is very scientific in that she defines terms like god, religion for us and most importantly maps out a plan of action.

The Beatitude(s)

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

St. Matthew records the nine beatitudes proposed by Jesus for His followers. These are presented in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. They are familiar to us, because they are found in that revered part of his gospel called The Sermon on the Mount.

The beatitudes, we may recall, attach to the pursuit of such wonderful activities, or attitudes, as being poor in spirit, or mournful, or meek, or hungering and thirsting for righteousness, etc. To live a life described in these ways is to gain beatitude, or happiness. This is primarily thought of as heaven, the reward for leading a life described as a life of the beatitudes, for this is one of bliss or happiness.

Now there are nine of these beatitudes, which Jesus presented on the Mount that has come to be known as the Mount of the Beatitudes. That is, Jesus proposes to achieve happiness, both in this life, and the next. It is wonderful that we have such a rich set of options, whereby we can gain a heavenly home, and the companionship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with the many holy men and women who have preceded us there, as well as relatives and friends.

But a concern may enter our minds regarding the nine way proposed by Jesus. We may recall our Catholic practice designating as “blessed” those men and women whose lives have been marked by exceptional holiness, placing them on the pathway to sainthood and designated as “Blessed” before they reach sainthood.   That is precisely how Jesus names these nine ways: the Beatitudes or the Blessed. Before we designate someone as Saint John Paul II or Saint Therese, we refer to them as Blessed, the very same word Jesus uses in laying out the nine beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are the meek, etc. This may lead us to suspect that these nine ways of achieving beatitude involve the same kind of holiness reserved for those on their way to sainthood. Or is the happiness involved with the beatitudes reserved only for those exceptional people about to become saints? If so, since we may not regard ourselves as future saints, we may wonder whether the beatitudes are within our grasp. Perhaps these beatitudes are more difficult to attain than we initially thought.

And that, in turn, may lead to further questions. These nine ways of attaining beatitude, as laid out by Jesus: must we achieve each of them, one by one, before we can lay hold of the happiness that is linked to them, or does it suffice to accomplish just one of them, whichever it might be, in order to gain the beatitude that is attached to its practice? That is, if I practice mercy fairly well, but none too well so far as the other eight beatitudes are concerned, does this suffice to gain for me the happiness clearly linked to it by Jesus? For I may honestly have to admit that I certainly haven’t done a good job with the rest of the beatitudes, even though I may have practiced one of them fairly well.

This question may cast a cloud over my candidacy for the blessedness that Jesus laid out in His Sermon on the Mount. Maybe so. But maybe no. For could it be that in my attaining at least one of the nine practices referred to as the beatitudes, I have, as a matter of fact, achieved, in a somewhat hidden way,

Forgiveness

 

forgiveness

by James Paulin

 

Inside, stored memories of deeds done simmer subconsciously alongside restrained resentments, anger and acrimony. Cloaked in layers like winter clothing by time and

tamed temperament, insulated from the surface except in dreams or involuntary reactions,

slowly damming Life as a free flowing force.

 

Introspection far beyond this momentary facade reveals conflicts both freshly picked and digested long ago. Confrontation defies delusion and denial. Painful emotions emerge with authentic admissions crying out to be at peace even with the dead. Desire for wholeness of spirit or heart foams an antiseptic cleansing solution when applied. Infected wounds that have been given and received now begin to heal. A soothing balm of forgiveness is first self applied then shared with all affected, praying they will accept Anointment.

The Science of Compassion

You Have Lots of Compassion

You are a naturally empathetic and caring person. Other people matter to you, and it shows.
You celebrate your friends’ successes and sympathize when they run into trouble.

You have a strong sense of justice, and you want to protect everyone who’s been treated unfairly.
It’s hard for you to judge someone unless you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. You give people the benefit of the doubt.

The above is a result of my taking the short quiz that you can take by clicking “How Compassionate Are You?” above.

 

This is just kind of a fun way to introduce “The Science of Compassion” In the next few weeks or months I would like to spend some time discussing compassion, finding out what others think it is and more importantly developing some activities that aim to make us more compassionate.

 

Awhile back our local news channel came on with breaking news. It seems two geese with their five goslings had found their way onto the left hand shoulder of a major expressway here in the Chicago. They were walking aimlessly until two State Troopers in their cars along with an emergency tow truck started guiding them off the road out of danger. The first task was to get the geese and goslings across three lanes of traffic onto the right side where they could guide them to a ramp and eventually out of harms way. I couldn’t help but think while watching the sky camera from the traffic helicopter how peaceful the geese looked despite the danger they were facing. They had all the support they needed with the troopers and emergency vehicle to get them across the lanes, down the ramp and eventually to safety.

What a beautiful example compassion. Now, if we could only be as caring with our fellow citizens. Jeffrey Sachs, who among his many other accomplishments, is an economist and Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia’s School of Public Health writes:

“The most difficult challenge in America today is mindfulness of others. The social safety net is frayed. The poor are suffering while the politicians discuss cutting the social safety net even further. Mindfulness of others is typically far stronger within an in-group than across racial or ethnic divides.”[1]

Today and in the coming weeks, I invite you to join me in the search for ways to become more compassionate asking you to share your reflections and actions you personally have found helpful in your attempt to be a compassionate person.

 

 

[1] Excerpt From: Jeffrey D. Sachs. “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.” Random House, 2012-08-21. iBooks.

Now and Then

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

A famous Roman author once advised those beginning the pursuit of authorship: not to rush. Rather, he suggested, take the draft of what you have written, place it in a desk drawer, wait a number of months, THEN pull it out again for rereading, and ask: am I satisfied with it NOW: is it ready for publication?

It’s a question of NOW AND THEN: publish now, or, publish then. Some are inclined to do it now and get it over with. Otherwise, it may never get printed. Others, on the other hand, prefer to wait awhile to see if some better way later suggests itself to do what I want to do.

There’s the adage: don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Why? Because delay may be the death-knell of the project. That is, it may never get done if one postpones the project. Better half done than not done at all. Did not Jesus say: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Mt. 6.34)? Is not “half done better done than not done at all”? Many an opportunity has been lost because of delay. Opportunity only knocks once.

On the other hand, we have heard that haste makes waste. A job half done is better not done at all. Why rush? The opportunity will offer itself again. Haste makes waste. Accidents occur to those ill prepared for what they are about to do. One will live with regrets at rushing into something for which one is not prepared.

 

Now and then. Perhaps we can pair this choice with another pairing: good and evil. When there is a question of doing something good, then likely NOW is preferable to THEN. For a delay in doing something good may result in it never getting done. On the other hand, when it’s a matter of doing something wrong or evil, then what seems preferable and recommended is to delay the doing of it for, when THEN rolls around, we may have had the opportunity to rethink the doing of it. For what is done can never be undone, whereas what has not yet been done can frequently be done later on.

 

A slip of the tongue can cause untold harm and grief; it occurs in an instant, and may take a lifetime to undo. But, by the same token, the omission of a “thank you” to a stranger, likely never to be met again, for a helping hand he or she offered in time of personal need may be regretted over a lifetime.

During this Pentecost season, our minds and hearts turn to the Holy Spirit in the realization that this Spirit of God is at the source of so many “inspirations” that come to us for doing good, and for so many cautions that bedevil us as we toy with temptation. This is the season for renewing our relationship with Him and working in tandem with Him so that we can say with some confidence, as the church in Jerusalem said in its letter to the church in Antioch: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us …”(Acts 15.28).