The Challenge of Compromise on the Path to Zero
From the fertile soil and clay cliffs of Kentucky, to the gently rolling landscapes of Indiana, that give way just beyond its borders to the seas of grass Laura Ingalls Wilder called home, I’ve been given an opportunity to change my perspective through experience. In a time when we seem to find letting our guard down and trusting each other difficult, I’ve found myself in rooms of people who are often drastically different yet all fighting every day for the same end.
Ten months ago, when I started this work with the HCV Advocate, I probably would have given you a more pessimistic outlook. I would have said we split ourselves into two groups, dug our feet into opposing mountain sides, and were unlikely to change. I was exhausted physically and mentally, and I was emotionally defeated. I had been in the middle of seeing people (on both sides) using facts and numbers as their ammunition. There was such a conviction in the certainty of the process, while having an unwillingness to see the obviousness of what’s in front of us. We will never be able to use two dimensional objects to accurately reflect the depth and breadth, and solutions for the problems faced by three-dimensional beings.
I’m happy to report I’m more fun to be around now (only a little though), and as I sit at a rest stop halfway between Maplewood, NJ and Atlantic City, I’m thankful for the opportunity Alan and the HCV Advocate gave me. More than anything, I’m grateful to all the training participants and communities that have welcomed us (and to those that we are headed to see). The contrast between places like Boston and Alabama, or the small mountain community of Franklin, NC and the bustling fast pace of Chicago is apparent.
Far less noticeable is how consistently, everywhere I go, people are willing to work together. For the time span of 5 or so hours we share a lot of information, we take quizzes and set plans of action for ourselves going forward. The real power of the training lies in the fact we increase the likelihood those plans we hold dear to us exceeding our expectations through meeting the other training participants, and creating new working relationships. Exceeding our own expectations and overcoming complex problems going forward means doing so together, without our egos.
In grade school, many of us are taught a fundamental truth about problem solving. A simple equation will need a simple solution. Proofs in geometry are more complex problems and they need not only longer explanations, but justifications for their answers. En route to the solution, you can write pages of reasoning and the logical steps needed to solve the problem. This is a lesson we learn early, and one that stays with us throughout our lives. As we grow older and work with each other to solve larger problems, we begin to understand their solutions must follow the same path. Often though, the frustrations of problems incredibly close to us make it harder to hold to this understanding.
On the surface, many people wouldn’t give my comment much thought. It is so basic that I think we often feel we don’t have to mention it. But if we go too long without actively reminding ourselves of this foundation, we run the risk of using it less and less, until we avoid using it all together. We struggle, fail, gather ourselves and try again. Simple solutions that will solve a problem are exciting because they are easy to manage and are concrete. Wanting to find the simplest, most cost-effective solution to a complex problem isn’t a bad thing, but it must always be realistic and honest. There are some people who are driven and work vigorously with a single fixed viewpoint. This passion and advocacy are so strong that there are times when people will stand fiercely counter to those who disagree with them even slightly.
In some cases, any compromise or movement towards someone opposing viewpoint isn’t seen as a success for progress, but a loss. Somewhere along the line our strong values and beliefs have given way to an iron commitment for change to come from the other side. This happens to such a degree that at times we break down potential partnerships, while others are flat out avoided. If someone disagrees with us they are an “idiot” who doesn’t look at all the “facts.” While the other side may see them as “encouraging” the problem. And so, both sides, are held up on their courage and passion, but are anchored to their positions by ego, slowed and ultimately kept from progress.
The war we are fighting isn’t from individual mountainsides for the people who are in the trenches between us. It is only our perspective and frame of reference that leads us to see it that way. The intensity of debate can become so great that we forget the solution to our problems doesn’t need to be created from nothing. The solving of a single variable won’t bring an end to this; figuring out how to use what we have in ways that we didn’t realize will. And never forgetting that the war we are fighting is for our coworkers and neighbors, for those we stand in line with, and who help us at the bank; and far more often then we admit, sometimes, when we have the courage to look up, it’s who we see staring back at us in the mirror.
Matthew Zielske is the Training Manager for the Hepatitis C Support Project’s Train-the-Trainer workshop. He has a Master’s in Communication with a focus on health communication and health literacy
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