The value of accommodation

I refer not to the residential kind of accommodations of which we are all familiar but the adjustments one must make to the inevitable vicissitudes one experiences navigating the rolling swells that sometimes threaten life’s equilibrium.

Adapting to such currents requires patience, self-control, tolerance, understanding, and the capacity to overlook annoyances. By “overlook” I do not mean “ignore” but to look beyond the immediate irritation to something more important than anger or withdrawal.

In a marriage, it takes two to have a fight, the consequences of which can do damage well beyond the cause of the conflict. There are the lingering resentments that carry the seeds of future discord, not to mention the effects upon children.

Too often winning the argument at all costs is viewed as paramount. Retaliation and vindication stoke the acrimony and the reason for the dispute disappears in the conflagration.

Accommodation asks: Is it worth it? What’s to be gained and what’s the risk in a confrontation?

Choosing not to engage by listening quietly, agreeing at least in substance, or walking away is often the wiser course. Learning to live with petty irritants that get under your skin but are unlikely to change is not giving up but giving in to a higher impulse – peacemaking.

Anger is usually unproductive no matter how much better you think you will feel if you let it out. We invariably say things when we are angry that we later regret. It is the response to a crisis and not the crisis itself that fuels the confrontation.

Knowing when not to engage is important. Knowing when not to become involved in a war is a lot easier than getting out after it has begun. Over the years, I have learned not to engage in unproductive exchanges. I simply choose not to do so at that level.

Accommodation involves the ability to look beyond the immediate to a larger, more important goal. Within a family, it’s looking beyond the argument to the damage protracted disagreements will do to relationships. In government, it’s placing the common good over partisan political dysfunction.

Our culture has become more contentious. Being assertive, firm, and independent are today’s values, replacing compassion, humility, restraint, civility, and sacrifice. These “softer” virtues, so necessary to the calm, orderly, and balanced exercise of power are now viewed as weakness.

The effects of this change are all around us; in Congress, the Middle East and Wall Street. We tend to see things in stark contrast: winning versus losing, success or failure, love or hate.

Accommodation is a far more realistic blending of opposites. It recognizes that in winning there is loss, that success involves failures, and that hate is the flip side of love. Wisdom is the prudent application of knowledge to events, large and small. It recognizes the importance of the “softer” virtues in achieving harmony.

“Blessed are the peacemakers!” Too bad there aren’t more of them.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.