By David Hegg
There seems to be too much “either-or” thinking today. It happens in marriages, in friendships and in politics. “Either-or thinking” is what I call it when two people or groups have opposing ideas and are on the road to an all-out fight over which idea will prevail. The byproduct of such sentiment is competition that usually devolves into hyperbole, cynicism, personal attacks and fractured relationship.
In my world I see it in marriages where husband and wife end up being husband versus wife. In most cases the stronger spouse wins, but after losing a few times the weaker spouse often decides to dig in the heels and win at all costs. Where this kind of competition is ongoing, they start keeping score and this contributes to a downward spiral in their marriage. Competition has replaced partnership at the most basic level.
It also happens in politics. In fact, we all have a front-row seat on this very thing as we watch our elected officials compete against the gang across the aisle. Throughout the recent campaign season we saw good people become ugly, and profitable discussion become cheap rhetoric and mudslinging. But now that the elections are over, we need to see if those we’ve elected can turn from competition to collaboration.
Competition is when it is me against you, us against them. The problem with this is that it changes the focus of the discussion from solving the problem to winning the argument. In marriage, it is destructive when we work from the page of husband against wife and winning becomes the goal. In a healthy situation it must become husband and wife versus the problem, and solutions are the goal. This is what we call collaboration. In a collaborative relationship the problem is the enemy, not the person.
In competitive environments the result is often compromise. And while we hear a lot about the value of compromise, it really shouldn’t be our goal. Compromise is where no one wins. Compromise means both sides settle for less than they think is best. Compromise is just failure dressed in nice clothes.
In collaborative environments, when all sides start from scratch, listening to their opponents with a view to solving the problem rather than winning the argument, the result can be a double win. Solving the problem, coupled with a new sense of partnership, will make for better relationship. Agreement rather than compromise is the foundation of short-term success and long-term progress. When we stop trying to prove ourselves and instead determine to partner in solving the problem, we all end up on the winning team.
But, of course, it isn’t as easy as it sounds for one simple reason. Collaboration demands that we trust and respect those with whom we are partnering. This is the core issue in any human relationship but it is even more crucial where problems need to be solved. Unfortunately, we are increasingly a nation short on both trust and respect. Winning has become the chief value, making personal attacks and the corresponding vindictiveness the order of the day.
It all boils down to our personal ethic. The Apostle Paul wrote some classic lines to the church at Philippi. He said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility of mind count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” What he was encouraging was collaboration, built on the foundation of humility. It very well may be that we think much too highly of ourselves to listen to those on the other side. If so, one side is going to win even as they and everyone else ends up losing in the end.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.