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Compromising for the greater good

I was reading Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World and I came across this:

Theologian Reinhold Niebuht wrote that to effect change, we need to practice “spiritual discipline against resentment.”

Pretty heady instructions, that.

Sometimes even recognizing another point of view feels like giving in, you know? Sometimes it feels scary to say, “I can see how you’d feel that way.”

When I was a young feminist taking my first women’s studies class one of my assignments was to interview a woman who worked for The Child Assault Prevention Program (“Living Safe, Strong and Free!”). I’m not positive, but I think she helped create that child abuse program, which is now used nationwide. In any case, she was a radical feminist and we were talking about activism and creating change. She told me that she used to not shave under her arms or her legs. She used to buzz her hair crazy-short (it was still pretty short but styled) and she didn’t wear skirts or make-up. Then she started working for CAPP and part of her job was development, which is the getting of money. And she discovered that these fancy-schmancy business guys in suits were more likely to listen to her if she wore some make-up (this was the eighties after all when we all wore at least four shades of eyeshadow) and if she wore a skirt and she noticed that her unshaven legs didn’t look so hot in hose (again, it was the eighties and we didn’t go around bare legged much then) so she started shaving her legs.

“I did this,” she told me. “Because I wanted the program to have money because I wanted to prevent child abuse.”

But some of her friends were angry. They said she was giving in. They said she was selling out. There’s no doubt that it was a sacrifice for her but it was a sacrifice she was willing to make in the interest of a cause that was more important to her than not shaving her legs.

I’ve thought about this off and on in the years since that interview. I’ve thought about how powerful it can be to change things from the inside out and how compromise, used with discretion, can be a good thing.

Sometimes it takes more strength to work with the perceived enemy.

difficult child

3 Comments

  1. I hate arguing and debating because I’m so extremely empathetic that I can be convinced of the validity of almost any argument. I’m always so concerned about taking care to understand other people’s perspective that I often find that I have a really difficult time deciding how *I* feel about a particular issue. It’s sort of annoying. :D

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  2. I’ve always thought that we need both–those who push from outside and those who push from within–and that our movements would be more successful and less torn apart by internal strife if we could accept the value of both, and of people choosing the position in which they feel they can be more effective, rather than just embracing ideology. (This is not to disagree with you, but with the people who call other people sell-outs, or overly idealistic.)

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  3. I’m in shock at the comment!!! Zoinks!

    I deleted a last paragraph about me and my friend talking about gay pride parades. He’s gay and is kinda horrified by them because they make the gay community look so crazy to outsiders and we argued once about how they serve a different purpose for the community and it takes both kinds of activists. But I deleted it ‘cuz I was afraid I was going to get his argument wrong. (I’ll take that risk in a measly comment!)

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