Compromise and compromised

Posted on August 26, 2012 by


‘Your account has been compromised.’ This was how I was informed that my Twitter account had been hacked and that somebody had started sending messages on my behalf. I changed the password and solved the problem, but this incident made me think of the use of the word ‘compromise’.

If  linguistic unfairness exists, it could be applied to the word ‘compromise’.  Throughout history, wars were avoided, lives were saved, and dignity was observed through the use of compromise.  Yet, compromise is now used with suspicion or, in the case of Internet security, in a negative context.

Before we discuss this linguistic unfairness, let us check the etymology. Compromise is a Latin word consisting of com (together) and promittere (to promise). In its original meaning, it meant the joint promise of two sides to solve problems, usually through arbitration.  I definitely did not make a joint promise with those hackers or cybercriminals who hacked into my Twitter account.

Compromise has been the main way of solving conflict among individuals, groups, and countries since the beginning of humanity; it is  the main tool of diplomacy.

At the core of compromise, there is empathy, if not sympathy, for others. We have the capacity first to understand the emotions of others and, second, to respond emotionally to those emotions. This is one of the main human traits, one very often neglected in the modern era mantra of maximising self-interest regardless of others.

By being ready to compromise, we understand the views, needs, and emotions of others, and we try to accommodate them by either adjusting our approach or, sometimes, by giving up on our claims partially.

Compromise is not a naïve and utopian approach, as it tends to be perceived in modern utilitarian thinking. Compromise is very pragmatic, and one can argue the main constituent of maintaining social fabric and trust, both within countries and between them. A lot has been written recently about trust (or, more precisely, the lack of it). But very little has been written on the importance of compromise (and empathy) in achieving that trust.

The importance of compromise in diplomacy could be realised if we think of all possible conflicts that could have happened and those that actually happened in reality.

The high relevance of compromise for human society is in opposite proportion to the low-ranking of relevance of it in the public perception. Language is a good detector of public unconsciousness. This text was triggered by the linguistic use of  the term ‘compromised’ for the hacking of my account. In the former communist countries, one stigma was to be declared a compromiser. In many societies, compromise is perceived with suspicion. Compromise particularly suffers in the clash of one truth, whether ideological and religious. One truth, one leader, one whatever… this cannot tolerate compromise. Faced with the reality and complexity of human society, even the strictest ideologies and religions have to compromise. While we discuss the high relevance compromise in  society, we should keep in mind that it is not always good. There are rotten compromises as was the Munich compromise with Hitler.  Compromises that cannot support humanity and human dignity must be avoided.

So how do we close this gap between the importance of and appreciation for compromise by modern society?  Any progress will take time. Philosophers should think more on justifying the high ethical relevance of compromise. All of us should try to preserve our trait of empathy in this fast-changing world. Empathy is the first step towards compromise.

In the meantime, make sure that your Twitter or Facebook account is not compromised.

Posted in: diplomacy