S2E21 Compromise

If given the choice, do you prefer to compromise or do it your way? In this episode, Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin discuss why compromise is so difficult for human beings (hint: we’ve got those rigid and judgmental brains!) and how a willingness to practice compromise creates opportunities for more workable solutions. Letting go of attachment to being right, mindfully accepting and experiencing discomfort, and returning back to the middle path are also discussed. Tune in to learn more.




Pete: Well, that was the first I got a little indication that the recording was in progress. So here we go, hey, let's talk about compromise. Nikki, what do you think?

Nikki: Let's do it. I think this is something that everybody struggles with sometimes. Myself included.

Pete: Yeah. I mean, it's just something that people are… Well, I mean, my first thought was ego, which [inaudible 0:45] Freud episode. But…

Nikki: Yeah, we'll get there.

Pete: There's no struggle with it, if there's no ego involved.

Nikki: Yeah, we all have. I mean, well, but…

Pete: I have a healthy ego.

Nikki: Yeah, you do. But the ego that you're referring to is a different, it's more actually from like, the spiritual kind of language than Freudian though.

Pete: I said this to my colleague the other day, where he's a psychoanalyst, and he's done psychoanalysis. And he was talking about like buying a house or some of this stuff. And it's all like, very showy. And he was owning his ego in it. I was like, “what's the point of psychoanalysis?” It took him a minute. And then he said, “Well, it's better than my ID reacting.

Nikki: You're like, “fair”,

Pete: Fair.

Nikki: Fair. That's totally fair. Yeah, well, but I was just saying that ego and compromise, I mean, sure, it could be like, your ego gets in the way. But I also think it just comes back to this concept we talk a lot about on here, which is, human brains want to be comfortable. And so compromise actually means letting go of some discomfort, because you're not getting it your way. And nobody likes that.

Pete: Nobody does like that, and anyone who's like last born.

Nikki: I know. I'm a firstborn.

Pete: And I'm the last born.

Nikki: Yeah. So I am used to just

Pete: Whatever Nikki wanted,

Nikki: Just bossing my four brothers around,

Pete: You weren't bad.

Nikki: No, but I have a colleague, a psychologist colleague, who she's saying, like female oldest, She's like, “I think that's what makes us good psychologists, because we're just like used to”, you're used to leading the way,

Pete: Although, as the youngest, I'm often referred to as Switzerland, because I'm keeping the peace.

Nikki: Yeah, that's true. Okay, well, so maybe you can use that as a jumping off point for maybe how you've cultivated the ability to compromise.

Pete: Nothing really matters, that's why. Although, I think sometimes it creates the challenge, because I then appear ambivalent. And so what that means for listeners is like, sometimes… So compromise means that if I want to go to place A, and Nikki wants to go to place B, then I'm like, disappointed if I don't go to point A, because that's where I want to go. I approach this as like, ‘I'll go to point A or point B, like, it doesn't make much of a difference to me'. And so sometimes that's then seen as ambivalent, because like, as if you don't care, but I just see that as being super flexible. Because wherever I go on there, and that's like [inaudible 3:11],

Nikki: ‘Wherever you go, there you are', yeah. Well, so I like that as a starting point. Because look, to be clear,

Pete: Because you want to challenge me.

Nikki: No, I don't want to, actually. Well, I don't want to challenge you here. No, it's more that like, look, I think it's important to acknowledge that sometimes we are ambivalent. There are times when we don't care, we don't have a strong opinion or feeling about any one thing. In those cases, compromised is not required. You're kind of going with the flow, if somebody else has a strong preference for something and you're like, “yeah, whatever, I don't really care”. Okay. compromise is not a skill that you're going to pull out of your toolbox. Compromise is required when there are two differing preferences or ways of looking at things and you're trying to come to a middle path. And find…

Pete: There you go with the…

Nikki: There I go, whoo. I'm bringing in the eastern here.

Pete: Yeah, you are.

Nikki: Yeah. Come to a middle path that is workable. And we've talked about workability on this podcast, that workability does not mean that it's perfect or optimal or the best, it means that given the context, given the situation, this is most effective. And that also requires tolerating and accepting some discomfort. And I think that's where people get really stuck on compromise. Is like they don't want to let go of being comfortable. They're like, “I want it my way”, but if both people want it their way you're stuck in space, you can't go anywhere.

Pete: So everyone has had a challenge with that, ‘I want this to be a Blue Room'. ‘I want this to be a pink room'. I mean, I think all these things require like a conversation. I'm going to keep pushing us with this though, because I do think that this is rigid.

Nikki: Yeah, oh yeah.

Pete: And I know that you're seeing that. So the definition of compromise by Oxford as I love to give us, an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions. So the concessions like that's the piece that people struggle with behaviorally because they're feeling, like they're conceding. I mean that the verb ticket…

Nikki: Because they are, that's the truth of it. You're giving up something…

Pete: Well is that not perspective though?

Nikki: How do you mean, say that?

Pete: Well, because the concession is that my way was right. Rather than there's no concession if I'm simply approaching life flexibly.

Nikki: Okay, yes, I think maybe what we would want to do is like back it up a step further to say everybody thinks their perspective is right. That's the baseline functioning of the brain. Like we think that our way

Pete: I'm stuck there.

Nikki: Why are you stuck there?

Pete: Well, because I mean, maybe I'm just speaking independently. I don't think I know anything.

Nikki: Yeah, but Pete, I think that, again, comes from like many years of practice, that's like, that's many steps down the road that if we go all the way back,

Pete: Alright, oh you want me to take a step back.

Nikki: Yes, going all the way back. Like at baseline, the brain thinks, like everybody thinks their perspective or way of doing things is right, which makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective. It's like you want to, like what we know and do, it would make sense that we'd want to attach to that and try that and move things forward. Otherwise, we would, I don't know, we'd never explore, we'd never tried new things.

Pete: Referencing our episode on curiosity recently.

Nikki: Yeah, exactly.

Pete: Well, again, I think it's because of rigid thinking. And you were agreeing on that.

Nikki: Yeah, it is rigid. So it's like that baseline is rigid, like baseline, human beings are rigid. We always say like…

Pete: It’s a universal experience.

Nikki: It's a universal experience. We're not born mindful, like mindfulness as you said…

Pete: God, why not?

Nikki: Well, it's, again, because like, we always say, like flexibility, mindfulness, like, that actually takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, that evolution is trying to be quick here. It's got to select for quick and easy things. And rigid thinking is a lot less processing power. It's a lot easier to process in binaries than it is in 17 perspectives.

Pete: Well I find it to be more, I guess to speak, but the gray to me is way more fluid.

Nikki: Well, so again,

Pete: My practice got me there,

Nikki: Your practice got you there. So it's like I think what we have to…

Pete: We need the whole world to be here, then.

Nikki: Well totally, but I think we want to make sure our listeners understand is like, what Pete's describing, he didn't come by it naturally,

Pete: No, it took al lot, yeah.

Nikki: And continues to.

Pete: Well all the time, it never ends.

Nikki: Yes. So compromise is, it is making a concession, because the concession is letting go of ‘I'm right'. It's conceding, ‘I don't know everything', ‘I know there isn't one right way to do things'.

Pete: So I'm putting myself in the shoes of a listener who's like, “What are they talking about?” And so we got Nikki breaking it down that all of our brains are rigid initially. And that, as we've practiced, we've gotten to a place of more flexible functioning. So I want to break it down for some tools. So maybe…

Nikki: Okay, cool.

Pete: Can you think of ways that you have clinically worked with some folks around compromise, or maybe an example of like somebody who's struggled with compromising?

Nikki: Yeah, well, you're going to laugh when I say what's the first tool you think I have in my toolbox that I pull out? Can you guess?

Pete: I can.

Nikki: Go for it.

Pete: Mindfulness.

Nikki: Yes. So the first step, and so depending on the situation or the person, mindfulness is like a set of behaviors under this larger umbrella. It might be literally like teaching them to medicate… medicate, [inaudible 9:19] they might need to medicate as well. Meditate, they need to meditate so that they can learn the practice of paying attention to experiencing the moment. But a lot of times the behavior that we start with is non judgmental stance, like seeing things as they are. Because when people are stuck, when they're willfully refusing to compromise, it's because they're stuck in 'my perspective as right', as opposed to seeing ‘let's acknowledge the many different vantage points here, let's take in the data'.

Pete: Which could limit one's ability to experience something more fully, because there's likely…so I was watching, okay, can I go on a little bit of a…

Nikki: Please,

Pete: Please, just for minute.

Nikki: Yeah, totally go for it.

Pete: So I broke down my like cable so that I would try and save some money. And now I have Hulu prime, Netflix, Apple TV, Apple plus, HBO max. I mean, it is insane.

Nikki: Preaching to the choir.

Pete: Okay. So there's no easy way to clean this up because there's at least one or two shows on each of them that I really like. So I need that for that. So listeners, can I get an amen? So with Apple TV, there was a show called ‘Home'. And I love stuff like this, architectural and also, so the first episode was this home in Sweden, it is called a nature home, Naturhus, N-A-T-U-R-H-U-S. So what they did is they build a greenhouse around the house. Oh, it's so cool. You have to check it out. And they did a self sustained like water system in the house. Anyway, now I'm coming to the point, everybody. The municipality didn't want them to have this only because then they wouldn't buy into the municipal water. And there's clear evidence that there's not enough water or that the water was contaminated, or whatever it was. And they were able to develop a self contained water system with both their like sewage waste, and like,

Nikki: Wow,

Pete: It was so fascinating. And so again, the point there was that the municipality didn't want to accept it. Because it was outside of the box. It wasn't right, it wasn't what people knew. And it took this architect and this engineer, the builder to say, like, ‘here's the evidence, here are the data'. And so by the end of the episode, they say like that he actually won his case. But it took three years for him to win his case against municipality. So I know we're not going to talk about some of the global events that occur. But this is where people get stuck on compromise. I think that's why I'm feeling so stuck on this. Help me Dr. Rubin.

Nikki: No, I don't think you need help, actually. I think you're doing a beautiful job actually illustrating this human problem, is to become trapped in one vantage point, like a belief that there's one way to do things, there's one right way to bb. And what that example Petr just gave really highlights is that, again, that gets in the way of something, that gets in the way of compromise, number one, and without compromise, it gets in the way of a more workable solution. And it's like, that's where I think, we're talking about compromise, because obviously, that's a word that we use out in the world, but I would say in the therapy room, it's actually not a word I use. The word that I use all the time is a workability.

Pete: Workability. Well, would you also describe it as a dialectic?

Nikki: What compromise? Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yes, being dialectical, seeing that two opposite things exists at the same time.

Pete: And maybe I'll have you talk about that a little bit here with therapy for a minute. But I'm also wondering, if you think about just universally the biggest issue that people have with compromise. Because the thought that comes to mind for me is like romance, that I feel like where people need to find compromise the most, because it's like parenting,

Nikki: Right, if you're in a partnership. Yes, totally though, I would say that, again, it extends in anything. I always make the joke, if Congress was more skilled at this, if they just listened to me and Pete's podcast.

Pete: Because, again, I know that, what I keep, another thought that comes to mind is like abortion or no abortion. It's like, there's such a righteousness around what the…

Nikki: That's it, you just, that's the word. So when you said, like, what is the thing that gets in the way? It's an attachment to being right. And I think this is where I would love to hear some of the Buddhist perspective because that, to me is just like the crux of stuckness. Is this attachment to being right.

Pete: Yeah. Well, I think the Buddhists… in the Zen way, I've talked numerous times about the middle path so that there's really no right or wrong. I mean, one of the, like the Diamond Sutra, and some other sutras that we chant, like really just there's no beginning and there's no end, there's no life and no death. And I think that's where I find all of this, like intellectual stuff goes. So I really, I'm always struggling in my Zen practice, being around and being taught by a teacher who's really smart intellectually, again, he's like, one of the most read people, if not the most read person I've ever met. I struggle with that because it's like, I don't need more intellect. I feel like what we need in Zen is like,

Nikki: More practice

Pete: More practice. And I think that that for me is where this is. So middle path is where they would say that there is no right or wrong. So that flexibility is inherent in the meditation practice. So I've shared the story of like, going to see the Dalai Lama and all his monks just like letting everyone go in New York, an experience that doesn't happen in New York as you go into Rockefeller Center. Everyone's like, pushing to get to the front of the line. Remember those days?

Nikki: Yeah, I do, I remember them well.

Pete: Yeah, so that would be the Zen thing. Go ahead?

Nikki: Well, I was going to ask, and I think what I would love to hear more about, because I know, you've also talked about this here is the attachment piece, because I think that's a big part, like this attachment to being right. And obviously, my understanding is that, obviously, non attachment is a big component of Zen Buddhism.

Pete: The biggest, perhaps.

Nikki: The biggest, okay, the biggest. So can you say more about that, like how those would kind of be related to one another, like the attachment to being right.

Pete: So that's the second noble truth, is that our suffering and our pain is caused by attachment. And so it's acknowledging that. So that's why when you do the third noble truth and the Eightfold Path, you're no longer… This is why I'm having such a hard time with this episode. Because

Nikki: It doesn't seem that way. It's like, maybe internally, it feels that way. But I'm following what you're saying.

Pete: Says one mindful practitioner to the other. So with the second noble truth, I've already embraced that my attachment is what causes my suffering. So that's why I so easily went through, for anybody on our vlog on YouTube, you may have noticed that there's less on my shelves here. And that was intentional. Because part of this practice, as we've been recording this, I was like, “This looks so stupid behind me”, it was all books and stuff. And then there was like metals. So I donated a lot of the books to like some libraries and the metals I just threw away, which were like swimming metals from, some people have heard about my swimming career. So it was just like, ‘what do I need all this for' I did actually save just like five first place medals.

Nikki: I was going to say, I'm glad you saved some of those. The proud Jewish mother inside of me is like, “keep them”.

Pete: Keep them, yeah, let them go, tchotchkes,

Nikki: Yeah, reading my mind,

Pete: That's the best example, I think for listeners about non attachment. Because the truth is, those first places that experience all of that is within. And so I don't need without or external for that internal validation. And that's a lot of when I first started teaching, I wanted to know the answers in case a student asked a question. Like if we're traveling, I want to know where we're going.

Nikki: Yeah, I mean, as we all do, it's attachment to being right. And I think if we bring this back to when we're engaging with another person that is also attached to being right, the practice of non attachment, and here comes the little bit of Western behavioral science perspective. It is a behavior. We practice non attachment. So it's like, I think when people are really stuck when they're like, ‘we can't compromise’, this was kind of like a common therapy, saying, we'll say, “well, it's not that you can't, it's that you won't”, it's not that there isn't an ability, it's that you are not choosing to practice letting go of being right. And you're choosing not to practice, considering alternative perspectives, and you're choosing not to practice conceding something that you would like to keep around. So I think that's something that I hope people will keep in mind that compromises, it's a behavioral practice, it's a practice that is going to be uncomfortable. It's not going to be an outcome where you just feel totally amazing, or you feel all pleasant feelings. And in the long term, it is going to feel better, like going back to that example in, I’m sorry, was it Sweden, or Swiss?

Pete: Yeah, that house, the greenhouse.

Nikki: Yeah that greenhouse.

Pete: The nature house.

Nikki: Yeah, the nature house like, while it was kind of a process to get to, it's like, on the whole, that's going to work a lot better, it's going to actually be a more comfortable experience in the long term than if they had just been caught in there…

Pete: Well, this tug of war, and hopefully, for listeners that also illustrates the dialectic of this, there are definitely listeners that feel abortion is right or is wrong. We're not here to say that it is. There's other global things like Israel Palestine, we're not even trying to say what's right or wrong. We're simply saying that it's the rigidity of understanding the difficulty to get to that compromise. And I think a good way to maybe end already, because I can't believe we're at the end, is to think about some quote from the Dalai Lama around compromise. So dialogue means compromise respecting each other's rights in the spirit of reconciliation, there is a real solution to conflict and disagreement. There is no 100% winner, no 100% loser. Not that way but half and half. That is the practical way. The only way.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.

Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West, all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.