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David Thunder, researcher Ramón y Cajal of Institute for Culture and Society and professor at the University of Navarra. His next book is entitled 'The Sovereign State and the Premature Abortion of Republican Freedom'.

The art of yielding

Sat, 09 Nov 2019 09:44:00 +0000 Published in Expansion

In a few days the citizens of Spain will go to the polls to elect a new government, just seven months after the last elections. Many will wonder if the politicians of this country will finally be able to negotiate whatever it takes to form a stable government. Many will wonder why it is so difficult for Spain's politicians to reach an agreement with agreement to move the country forward despite their ideological and political differences.

If we wanted to explain the difficulty of achieving a stable government in these years, we could point to factors such as the rise of Catalan nationalism, the fragmentation of the vote, ideological differences between parties and the decline of the traditional majority blocs in the Spanish parliament as possible explanations for the political instability that Spain is experiencing in these years.

All these factors are relevant. But perhaps an even more determining factor is the lack of civic culture on the part of our political representatives. To be precise, their inability -or unwillingness- to sincerely dialogue with their adversaries for the common good of the whole country.

Ordinary citizens, when they observe the discussions and power games of their representatives, do not see a sincere desire to serve the common good, but rather a desire to "get their way", no matter what, even if it were in exchange for endless politically and economically costly choices. It seems that what prevails in the minds of our political leaders is not the construction of a viable and just future for all, but rather posturing, narcissism and a form of fanatical partisanship that does not see beyond their own partisan interests.

In part, this partisanship and refusal to dialogue could be explained by the lack of magnanimity, courage, and commitment to the common good of our political class . But it is also a more general problem that affects, in one way or another, the entire Hispanic culture: a general ignorance of the art of yielding. What the Anglo-Saxons call "the art of compromise" and which hardly has an equivalent term in Spanish is something essential for any political system, especially when there is a delicate balance between politically and ideologically opposed groups.

The "art of yielding" implies an ability and willingness to yield on one's own preferences and political projects when this is required for the good of the people, and to yield as much as possible to reach a practical agreement with the adversaries when this is necessary for the stability of the country. When this art falls into disuse, politics descends into tribalism, posturing and constant power games that do not have the good of the country in view, but the mere increase of the power and economic income of the political actors involved.

The art of yielding does not imply a total detachment from principles or moral and political commitments. On the contrary, those who are good at the art of compromise must discern, with prudence, when a principle is too important to sacrifice, and when it is not. For example, to resolve the impasse between Unionists and Nationalists in the North of Ireland, the parties involved had to compromise on central points of their respective political projects. At the end of a long and difficult public discussion and extended dialogue between the parties involved, they did so, because it was the only way out of a long cycle of violence and political instability.

The art of yielding is knowing how to overcome one's own selfishness and pride and to engage in an open and sincere dialogue with political adversaries in order to reach a agreement for the good of all. The art of yielding is knowing how to manage one's own and others' expectations in order to reach a status that is worse than ideal but better than an endless power struggle where political uncertainty and instability, governmental inefficiency, and in the worst case, even violence and public disorder are generated.

Ideological, political, and economic differences can never be fully reconciled. Rarely will all parties emerge from a negotiation with all their expectations satisfied. But if our political representatives would learn to look beyond their careers and bank accounts, to negotiate with a magnanimous and generous spirit, with a view to the common good, it would be possible to reach agreements that, while not perfect, make government possible and favor the interests of all citizens, at least as far as it is possible in an imperfect world.

The art of compromise is not totally unknown in Spain. Many consider that the constitutional agreement that was forged during the Transition was an exemplary act of magnanimity and leadership on the part of the political leaders of that time. May the politicians of our times learn, like their predecessors, the art of compromise for the common good of the people of Spain.