Bloody Compromise Can Lead to Compassion

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

I think one of the most valuable things a counselor ever told me was that when I finally started standing up for myself or telling people no for a change, I’d be told that I’m mean. And that I needed to be prepared for that. She could not have been more right.

Working Through Grief

I remember when I started telling my husband “No, I don’t want you to go with the girls and me to a chick-flick where they’ll talk about bra sizes and cramps and then the girls will want to crawl under their theater seats not just because of the personal content in the movie but because you’ll be the only father and the only middle-aged man and the only man at all in the theater hanging out to watch a story about 13-year-old girls discovering their bodies and boys.” He accused me of being mean, of excluding him. It was his way of controlling me, to make sure I didn’t do what I wanted to because I didn’t want to be accused of being mean. He really wasn’t interested in the coming-of-age girl-comedies. His interest was in demanding to be part of anything we did that might be considered fun. We simply weren’t allowed to have a good time without him.

Recently in a business deal, I was told I was mean. The accusation floored me because I wasn’t being mean: I was standing up for myself and not giving in on one last detail because I’d given in over and over and had decided to stand on principle. I was lectured to that I needed to compromise until we settled the legalities, no matter how many times I compromised and no matter that the other party never compromised but instead—in my opinion, at least—reneged on the original deal. Yet, I threw out a compromise or two, and no one bit except for one woman, who never once lied during the whole bloody negotiation. Can’t say that for the others. Compromise was something that only I was to do, I suppose. When it was their turn, it was hasty or unfair or not a professional solution.

I kicked and screamed about fairness, yet none of my business partners seemed to hear. Then when I offered a compromise that didn’t give them everything they wanted, suddenly I was the one being unfair. It was then that I saw that fairness was only fairness when they got what they wanted and to hell with me.

I was told I needed to be more forgiving and not take it personally when information about our business dealings was withheld intentionally from me. This—this—from people who didn’t know me when all I did was forgive and let others roll over me, back when I was a doormat. This from people who don’t know the side of me that feels that if anyone else’s need is greater than mine, then mine is subjugated and I must help them get what they want. But because I started standing up for myself this year, I was suddenly mean and unreasonable.

Often enough to make me paranoid, I heard it repeatedly that no one was purposely withholding information from me or cutting me out. Yet, just as often, I was sent copies of private emails that proved vital information I needed as a business partner was being withheld to suit someone else’s purposes.

So with all this ugliness, why didn’t I walk away? I could have. The one who never lied did walk away. I nearly did walk away, too, when I was told that if I didn’t like that the reneging partner had sold our project out from under me then I was out of luck (my words, I’ll admit, because I won’t quote her directly). If the buyer for her part of the project didn’t want to work with me, then my part of the project was over in spite of our prior understanding that all original partners would share in the deal.

But one thing, one person, kept me from walking away.

One of the partners. Again and again, she talked about how much she needed the money, needed the work. Her emails, both public and private, sounded desperate. One begged. If the business deal didn’t go through, what of her career?

For a solid month, I worried over what would happen to her career if I bailed on the project due to having to give in until there was nothing left for me to hang onto. I lost sleep. Many nights.

The deal was no longer worth the money to me and the almost-year of work was worth far more than I could hope to recoup. I was ready to walk away, but I just couldn’t let this poor woman’s career suffer the consequences of my principles, of my ethical dilemma.

So I stuck it out.

After a negotiation far more tense and personal than any bomb or missile contract I’ve negotiated for Uncle Sam and for the smallest dollars I’ve ever made on this kind of deal, we finally reached a resolution late at night. I was satisfied with the results, I’d have my part of the project to work on, and my poor partner could rest easily. I’d done what I could to make sure her career wasn’t harmed.

Then she was happy and I was no longer mean and we could all be friends and let the healing begin, as one partner said rather flippantly.

At the end, it came out that the woman who so desperately needed the money makes multiples of what I’ll make from the project. I had had no idea.

At the end, it also came out that an alternate project had been developed in case this business deal fell through, and that it “took care of” most of the other partners, including the one whose career I’d so worried about. Only, the alternate project had never been mentioned to me and I was the one left out in the cold. Yet another example of under-the-table deals that supposedly didn’t exist. I was always upfront in my suggestions and workings with my partners, obviously more than I should have been, but never once did anyone say, “You know, if we can’t settle this negotiation because of differing viewpoints of what was agreed to nearly a year ago, how about this new idea and here’s the baseline for how we’ll handle it so we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot again?” Not once did anyone mention this option. Not once.

These past three months of tension and stomach knots over how my principles might have an effect on someone else’s livelihood, well, they’ve been brutal. That was the hardest place to find a compromise—between my compassion and my principles when they were at opposite poles. There had to be a reason for all this bloodiness.

I think it comes back again to remembering to take care of myself. It’s not my job to take care of everyone else or their careers or their lives. It’s their jobs to do their jobs. My job is to take care of my stuff because, as I clearly had the Universe point out to me, my partners were certainly not planning to take care of me. It’s been a hard lesson, but the point has been made.

Next time, I’ll be more careful about the partners I pick. If there is a next time.

I’m a little bitter right now about the way I was treated and the things that were hidden from me, but not so much as you might think. It’s the lesson I’ve received that makes it worthwhile. This bitterness will pass. Soon. And I’ll still be compassionate. I will. It’s my nature.

Then again, sometimes compassion means not helping someone in need but rather, allowing circumstances to force them to solve their own problems. I’m sure others, though, might see my not helping as simply being mean.