Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Compromise, Power, and Trust

In a post last month, I gave some initial thoughts about the concept of compromise:

Compromise seems to imply giving up in the sense that (a) we give up something in order to “get along with” or “move forward with” someone else and (b) we quit fighting and bow to another’s wishes or demands. We give up. We quit. We lose. And in our heated, competitive culture, losing is not an option.

I wanted to dive further into the concept, so I checked the dictionary. Here’s the history and definition of the word:

Middle English, mutual promise to abide by an arbiter's decision, from Anglo-French compromisse, from Latin compromissum, from neuter of compromissus, past participle of compromittere to promise mutually, from com- + promittere to promise.

In other words: two or more parties who promise mutually to abide by some agreement. In order to do that, the parties must arrive at some level of trust that each will abide by that promise. Without trust, there can be no true compromise.

Recently, this concept of trust and compromise was demonstrated by the recent friendship of Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, and Shane Windmeyer, the executive director of Campus Pride. In his article, Windmeyer describes Cathy as a kind man who has a “devout belief in Jesus Christ and [a] commitment to being ‘a follower of Christ’ more than a ‘Christian.’” He explains how they have been able to share a dialogue, still disagreeing on most issues but coming to a “mutual respect.” Windmeyer also claims that Cathy showed him certain financial information from 2011 and 2012, not available to the general public. He says that “the most divisive anti-LGBT groups are no longer listed” as organizations that Chick-Fil-A financially supports.

Soon after Windmeyer’s article was published, Huffington Post published a counterpoint article by Jamie McGonnigal (founder of TalkAboutEquality.com). McGonnigal explains his skepticism with this alliance, bringing up some fair points: why did Cathy only share this information only with Windmeyer, and not to the media at large? This quote especially is worth noting:

[W]hy would Dan Cathy choose to pursue only Shane Windmeyer and Campus Pride instead of larger, further-reaching LGBT organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force or the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)? Is it that Cathy thought Shane seemed like a nice guy, or is it that winning over Shane could open up lucrative opportunities on college campuses?

What troubles me about the situation is not the friendship or the dialogue—what troubles me is the imbalance of power between Cathy and Windmeyer. As much as I want to believe the whole situation is on the level, I cannot help being a little suspicious. CEOs don’t attain high levels of power by being pushovers. They know how to get what they want, and to get people to do what they want. It’s difficult not to think that Shane is being naïve; that subconsciously he was flattered by the CEO’s attention and access to “private papers.”

Which brings me to that question Christian subculture loved to ask (especially in the 90s): WWJD?

My impression of Jesus is someone who, while loving and kind to children, the poor, the oppressed, and the “sinner,” had little sympathy or patience with those in power. It seems that those who are in power (if they want to follow the Jesus way) have a HUGE responsibility to those that Jesus loved and ministered to. Despite the glowing characterization that Windmeyer gives to Cathy in his article, Cathy’s actions seem to be similar to the typical Christianist, with deep ties to the network of organizations and politicians that comprise the Religious Right.

I could be wrong though! The guy might actually be sincere. Maybe he is struggling internally. Maybe he knows that discriminating against LGBT people is wrong; maybe he’s like those that the Marin Foundation is trying to reach. Maybe he is someone who has a hard time reconciling what he thinks he SHOULD believe with what he instinctively thinks is more like Jesus. McGonnigal suggests the relationship was formed because Windmeyer is a “nice guy” and Cathy saw a chance to take advantage. Unfortunately, that’s entirely possible. I agree with McGonnigal that Cathy’s actions would have been more noteworthy and a sign of real change if he had reached out to more prominent LGBT organizations. But would they have listened? Would they not have “punished” him for not going far enough? The point here is not whether or not Cathy deserves such scorn; the point is that the safest option for Cathy to reach out at all was Shane Windmeyer.

Perhaps this story is more about Windmeyer and less about Dan Cathy. Perhaps (in response to McGonnigal’s fair and probing questions), Windmeyer was the kind of person that Dan Cathy could trust. It’s definitely a heartening takeaway from this story, and a model to follow for those who are looking to build bridges. STILL, because of the imbalance of power in this particular relationship, the prerequisite of trust is much harder to obtain. Perhaps Windmeyer and Cathy achieved that trust; however, the imbalance of power makes it much more difficult for those observing from the outside to buy it.

Doubt and skepticism about this story is healthy. Common ground must be real ground. In this story, I can see a reason for hope and a reason for suspicion. McGonnigal is convincing, revealing troublesome signs of Shane being used as a pawn by a slick CEO to garner good PR. It’s very possible there could be a bit of both (good intentions and questionable motives) going on at the same time. People are complex.

Wherever the reality lies on this spectrum, I still see a lot of good coming out of it. Even if my worst fears are true about Cathy's motives and Windmeyer's naïvety, it’s still a heartening sign of progress. The story still provides the hope that civil dialogue and common ground is possible when two people come together to forge a relationship. True common ground can only be found in a relationship built on trust. If Windmeyer and Cathy can at least make an attempt (whatever their motives may be), how much more likely is it for us to build bridges and forge relationships with those around us?

1 comment:

Dan said...

Keep posting Kevin! I love reading your thoughts. Good work!