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Does Success in Life Require Compromise?

The issue of compromise comes up all the time, everywhere. To have healthy, meaningful relationships, we’re advised to seek out a middle ground. In the workplace, we hear, it’s vital that we compromise.

Even as some people insist that compromise is a guiding principle of social life, it’s clear that not every compromise leads to desirable outcomes.

Sometimes, it can be toxic to a relationship. Or, it can sink your business. Sometimes you need to say no. But when should you compromise — and when should stand your ground? How can you tell?

Ayn Rand’s philosophic analysis of compromise is enormously clarifying. It equips us to know when a compromise can enable win-win outcomes — and when, instead, we should refuse to give ground. In a recent webinar, part of our series Philosophy for Living on Earth, I discussed aspects of Rand’s view of compromise, drawing on her essay “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?”

I emphasized Rand’s observation that one should compromise only on the details or particulars within a mutually agreed principle, but never on a principle. When you buy a car, for example, you and the seller negotiate — come to a compromise — on the final sale price — within the mutually accepted principle of trade. But a “compromise” on a basic principle, on what you know to be true and right, is destructive: it means violating your convictions and selling out.

I strongly encourage you to read Rand’s essay “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” which is laden with insights that can help you navigate your personal relationships, your work, and your life. For more on Rand’s view of compromise, and the crucial role of principles in life, take a look at “The Anatomy of Compromise” (reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).

Here is the webinar with Q&A:

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Elan Journo

Elan Journo is a director and senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. His latest book is titled What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Elan is a senior editor of New Ideal.

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