The Lake Wobegon Effect- “Where Women are strong, the men are good looking and ALL THE CHILDREN are above average.” — Garrison Keillor

The recent political, societal, community and beyond squabbles demonstrate that we are a country that has lost the ability to listen to each other and find common ground. That loss, if not reversed, will signal the dissolution of our union as we know it.  Indeed, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided cannot stand.”

Such a house certainly cannot be relied on to find a compromise agreement.  Ira Shapiro’s recent book, The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship, reminds us that our U.S. Senate and legislative process was one a place where party and self-interest were set aside to steer America through crisis years. We need that type of mentality in all aspects of our society.

Resolution in any forum or any type of disagreement or dispute is becoming hard to obtain. Solution finding is replaced with “I want it my way.” A friend relayed a theory to me recently concerning “middle children.” When households were three or more children, he said that those middle children acted as the mediator leading to compromise in the household. Those kids found a way for the family to resolve the polar opposite disputes between the older and younger positions. Those kids grew up in the 1900s to be the compromise leaders in business and politics that allowed America to flourish in the 20th century.

As family sizes have changed, we have 2 or less children on average per household. There is no middle child. There is an only child being the center of activity and being catered to, or there are only kids of privilege (the oldest or the youngest) who likewise have position and designations of “being special.” There are no middle children. Everyone is “above average.”  No one is left to learn to bridge the gap.

Society certainly has to stand on morale principle; however, our moral principle is just like certain body parts, everyone has one. Philosophers can argue absolute truth, but we have to find a way to get along and make society and its institutions successful. It was Winston Churchill who once noted that “The English never draw a line without blurring it.”

We have to find that balance between the ideal and the possible for the institutions in a democratic society. Absolutes lead to dictatorships and autocracies.  To paraphrase an old saying: We can agree with all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but to have a workable society we must have a majority agree most of the time.

Awareness of others allows us to anticipate those challenges and plan to manage them in ourselves or others. This same approach is helpful when trying to assist a decision process in any circumstance. Knowing the motivation of your audience can create opportunities to manage to a better outcome.  In Profiles in Courage John F. Kennedy noted, ”Going along means more than just good fellowship – it includes the use of compromise, the sense of things possible. We should not be too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals. For politics and legislation are not matters for inflexible principles or unattainable ideals.”

John E. Hall Jr. is the chairman of the Hall Booth Smith law firm.


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