Given the polarization of our politics, and the attendant deadlock, large segments of the public are urging our leaders to cultivate the art of compromise, an approach little in evidence these days.  Without negotiations and the give and take that invariably accompanies such transactions, vital legislation stalls and progress halts.

I was reminded of this just recently when two of my grandchildren (ages 2 and 5) arrived with their father for a visit lasting several days.  What impressed me was the persistent adversarial stance assumed by both my son and his kids (and by extension between most parents and their children).  There were few if any successful unilateral decisions that my son could impose.  Negotiations were the order of the day, with outcomes not easily predictable.  The kids knew what they wanted and what they didn’t want and getting them to make concessions required all the skill, self-control and patience their father could muster.

At most every turn there was stubborn resistance; only some form of triangulation seemed able to resolve differences.  With breakfast on the table, the kids declared they’d not be ready until the cartoon they were watching ended.  When placed on a seat, they decided it was not the one they wanted, so transfers were required.  Offered apple juice, they wanted orange juice.  But they would not drink the juice until given a straw, which had to be a flexible one, able to bend at one end.  Spilling dry cereal on the floor seemed of little concern to them.  They refused initially to allow their chairs to be moved closer to the table.  Eventually they gave in – though not entirely.

And so it continued each and every day.  One of them insisted her diaper must have a bear design on it.  She’d accept no other animal.  Unfortunately my son had but one of  these left.  What he was obliged to do was pretend to use the “bear” only to substitute another pattern at the last second.  He would then suggest a particular shirt to wear.  She wasn’t buying it.  What followed was a thorough review of all available shirts until she finally settled upon one.  Getting socks on didn’t go all that smoothly either.  The older one was fully capable of putting them on, but preferred that her father do it.  He thought otherwise.  Negotiations followed.  Each did one sock.

Going out usually involved a battle over stroller occupancy.  Which one would get to sit in it.  Diplomacy generally prevailed here.  At times both were crammed in together; on other occasions the older girl stood on a lift behind her seated sister.  At the toy store the struggle continued.  Each fastened upon an item my son had no intention of buying.  Alternatives thus had to be discovered and deftly substituted for those initially chosen.

I could go on to review the process of taking a bath or preparing for bedtime, but the point has by now been established.  Each day was filled with similar episodes that required deliberation and compromise.  Much like a game, each side understood the “rules” and sensed how matters would be resolved, if they played their cards right.  In virtually every instance decisions were reached, both sides eventually accepting the outcomes, confident that they had not surrendered, but merely compromised.

So the message to our political leaders is clear – take a lesson from how American parents and their children learn to get along.

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