The art of compromise |

The art of compromise

Rich Mayfield

I don’t envy Michael Dell. Well, maybe just a little but the multi-billionaire CEO and founder of Dell Computers has a very sticky situation on his hands, and how he manages to extricate himself may mean millions of dollars either lost or gained for his struggling company.

One of Dell’s largest markets for its personal computers is China. Last year, over 40 million computers were sold to China by Dell and a few other U.S. computer companies. But this past week, the Chinese government issued an edict that demanded all new computers sold in China be programmed with a government-controlled censoring software called Green Dam. This decree is to take effect July 1.

In other words, Dell and his peers have until the end of this month to either stand up to the grossly undemocratic Communist Chinese diktat or to a potentially hostile conglomeration of capitalistic stock holders who may not be too happy with losing some very lucrative dividends in this recessionary year.

It’s a tough choice and one that has to take into account a myriad of issues including this troubling dilemma of profit versus principle. Right now Dell and the others seem to be pleading the pragmatic rather than the ethical problems inherent in the Chinese pronouncement. It is reasonable to assume that a newly added software program may wreak havoc with previously programmed software, ultimately resulting in the potential for shutting down millions of new computers. Now you wouldn’t want that, would you Chairman Hu Jintao?

But the ethical side of the problem may be even more troubling. Should an American company that has enjoyed the freedoms and privileges of a democratic government support through its commerce a most undemocratic practice?

Politics, we are told, is the art of compromise, so one assumes some very deft politicking is going on right now. It will be interesting to see just how this plays out, whether any party will emerge with both their dignity and principles in tact.

Political compromise has seemingly fallen out of favor in recent years. Claiming unalterable allegiance to a particular position, our politicians no longer seem to regard compromise as an essential ingredient of a healthy democratic system. Some of us can remember reading the stories of Democrats and Republicans spending their days involved in vigorous debate only to adjourn to the nearest pub to reaffirm their underlying friendships and mutual commitment to the democratic process. Now it appears the closest these two sides get is shouting at each other from across the aisle.

Compromise, of course, is the cornerstone in any healthy relationship. Any married couple can affirm that axiom. You’re not going to celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary without making more than a few compromises along the way.

Most workplaces, I suspect, would also affirm the importance of compromise. Getting along with co-workers seems an essential part of not just a pleasant work environment but a productive one as well.

Still, compromise comes hard for some folk. President Obama has taken more than a little flak for suggesting that dialogue with our allies and even our enemies may be a successful alternative to our past bullying. Charges of appeasement and even cowardice come easy from those who claim to be standing firmly affixed to their unalterable principles. Such claimants often make better radio commentators (or newspaper columnists) than pragmatic politicians, of course.

The plethora of violent acts in recent days is a grim reminder of what can happen when there is no allowance for compromise. Certainly there are times when the opportunities for compromise are limited or even exhausted but those times should arrive slowly and with intense scrutiny. Cavalierly declaring that compromise is never an option is the jargon of ideologues whose usefulness in a world filled with warring nations and fanatic individuals is nil or worse.

As I say, I don’t envy Mr. Dell and his decision-making but I do await it with great interest. Will it provide a helpful guide to future negotiations with China or a sobering confrontation with the limits of compromise … or, just maybe, both?

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to

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