Another election has come and gone. With the return to divided government—more the norm than the exception in recent decades—we hear predictable calls for bipartisanship and working across the aisle. How might that work? These three terms are often confused:
Compromise is agreement reached through concessions on both sides. The word has negative connotations, not always deserved, depending on what’s conceded. Refusal to consider even minor concessions shifts a divided government from checks and balances toward gridlock.
Meeting halfway can be foolish. The midpoint between poisoning all the nation’s schoolchildren and none is to poison half the children. Less dramatically, if my friend wants to meet for dinner and I’d rather meet for lunch, eating midway at three in the afternoon may irritate us both.
Common ground involves human needs and concerns shared across party lines. In northern Israel, Jewish and Muslim women with a shared desire for healthy families and the means to support them cater meals for underprivileged children. While compromise is iffy and midpoints often fail, collaboration across difference can work when decision-makers value common ground more than making their rivals lose.
Renaissance, square, contra, social, modern, international folk: I’ve done many kinds of dance over the years, none of them well. When I failed the audition for the modern dance honorary Junior Orchesis in high school, the judges said my choreography was creative and original but I didn’t point my toes on the leaps.
Composing dances was always fun. Even as a beginner, my response to any new step was, “Here is my variation.” Floor plans in choreography appealed to the same part of me as maps and house plans. My teacher, Toni Intravaia, was among the few dance instructors anywhere to teach children Labanotation, a system to record human movement on paper. That led to my implausible credential as a prize-winning choreographer with “Country Capers,” national winner of the Dance Notation Bureau’s Junior Dansnotator Choreography Contest.
Today, handheld devices can record movement electronically, and digital technology lets me rediscover “County Capers” on my computer. Labanotation expert and Dance Notation Bureau co-founder Ann Hutchinson Guest turned 100 this past Saturday. Toni Intravaia died this past April at 95. I’m ever grateful for their encouragement of children’s creativity more than half a century ago, even if I never did learn to point my toes.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.