Category Archives: The Grind (defunct blog)

No Compromise

Imagine you’re with a group of friends trying to decide where to eat dinner. Through the meandering debate, two camps emerge: One wants Alfonso’s, a four-star Italian restaurant. The other wants Lou’s, a diner with tasty if unspectacular burgers and sandwiches. (Full disclosure: I’m a Lou’s guy.) The Alfonso’s camp thinks that if they are going to eat out, they should eat well. The Lou’s camp, meanwhile, wants to eat cheaply; if they are going to eat out, they don’t want to spend too much.

Clearly these camps are looking for different things, yet if all wish to eat together, an agreement must be reached. A compromise. Finally, someone suggests The Noodle Haus, an above-average Thai place that costs more than Lou’s but not as much as Alfonso’s. Your friends agree: it’s a choice they can live with, and that’s where they eat.

While on the surface, this seems like a good compromise, it doesn’t really give anybody what they want. Half the friends spend more money than they wish to, while the other half eats a meal that is not as good as they want it to be.

In middle school history, I was taught that this was the essence of compromise: Each side gives something up so they can come to an agreement and make a decision. According to my middle school teachers, compromise was not only the best way to resolve disagreements; it was also the lifeblood of American democracy.

But compromise is not the only way. In college, I took a great course called “The Psychology of Negotiation,” where for part of the quarter, we discussed how and why compromises were suboptimal. The essential reason is this: By seeking compromise, both sides are conceding that they cannot get what they want.

That said, if I’m interpreting my notes and memory correctly, compromise can be the best lens through which to negotiate if the parties have the same priorities and opposing viewpoints. Take the dinner example. If the motivation of the Alfonso’s group was to spend a lot of money, and the motivation of the Lou’s group was to spend a little money, to make a decision, they would have to compromise, and “meet in the middle” of one variable, cost.

However, when the groups have different motivations and priorities, more often than not, their motivations are not diametrically opposed. The Alfonso’s friends want to eat well, and the Lou’s friends want to eat cheaply. Why not look for a place to eat that offers both? In Chicago, at least, there are plenty of options. Alternatively, the Alfonso’s friends could offer to pay for part of the Lou’s friends’ meals. After all, the Lou’s friends aren’t against eating Alfonso’s food, they just don’t want to spend the money. So they could say, alright, we’ll put in $12 each at Alfonso’s, if you all can split the rest of what our meals cost. The Lou’s friends pay what they want, and the Alfonso’s friends eat what they want, and everyone ends up full and happy.

Social niceties aside, it’s easy to see how this solution trumps the Noodle Haus compromise. One gives both sides exactly what they want, the other leaves them merely content. But once my class alerted me to alternatives, I started seeing Noodle Haus compromises everywhere: among friends making social decisions, among co-workers dividing tasks, among politicians arguing the issues of the day.

One of the key lessons I took away from “The Psychology of Negotiation” was this: Of course it’s foolish for actors in a disagreement or a negotiation to expect to always get exactly what they want. But if they focus on where each party’s priorities and motivations lie, a more optimal solution is possible for all sides. Sometimes, when they step back and think creatively about the deal they want to strike, it’s possible to turn a choice of “either/or” into an outcome of “both and.” And sometimes, it’s best to refuse compromise.

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I Got A Story To Tell, Part 1

“You know what’s gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever’s happening with us…
…the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself, where am I goin? How am I doin?”

Mos Def, “Fear Not of Man”

I used to hate rap. Well, I used to think that I hated the vast majority of it. Lately though, I’ve been listening to so much hip-hop, with so much joy, I’ve been wondering how I got here. Why do I now like hip-hop so much more than I ever have before?

It seems that often, during particular periods of my life, the music I’ve loved the most has mirrored some attribute I’m seeking at that point in time. Music I’ve loved has satisfied a need, desire, or emotion I’ve felt particularly strongly during particular eras.

I should clarify. As a kid, I wanted to be older, and simultaneously, I found myself enjoying the alternative rock that my older brother, his friends, and the older kids on my bus seemed to love. In middle school, I wanted to be less of a nerd (a fruitless quest), and a desire “to be cool” led to an affection for punk rock, the music listened to by schoolmates I deemed “coolest.” In high school, I remember having an angsty desire for a more “meaningful” life–one more engaged with the world at large and more mature. Musically, I think this is the thread that connects the music I liked most back then, which was mostly classic rock, Phish, and jazz.

Certainly, there is more to it than this armchair psychology. I could go on at length about what I think the musical bona fides of all this music is/was to me. For some of it, maybe it was as simple as “this sounds cool” or “I dig this.” But criticism isn’t my point here. My point is that there’s more to it than just what, sonically, I appreciate about the music.

Growing up, regardless of whatever auditory pleasures I found in it, the music I loved filled a void: apart from merely sounding great, it sounded cool to me specifically because it made me feel older, cooler, or more mature than other music did. And as I’ve gotten older (though not necessarily cooler or more mature), I think my growing love of rap is filling a void as well.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve often complained to friends that too much of my time has been spent in rumination, planning, and indecision, often resulting in inaction or procrastination. As a result,  I’ve sought to hone a sense of forthrightness and productivity. And while the hip-hop I’ve embraced offers a plethora of great qualities–unique, creative, and catchy beats; clever, powerful, and funny rhymes; honest, heartfelt, and compelling voices–most of my favorite rappers exude those traits, through their voices, work ethic, and that boom-boom-BAP that drives their drums and turntables.

Kanye and The Roots (especially ?uestlove) are workaholics.  Ghostface, Mos Def, and Biggie may be very different rappers, but none of them sound like ditherers. Even the rappers often perceived as “emotional” or “laid back” exude a self-assuredness that seems almost unbreakable. Just listen to this classic cut from A Tribe Called Quest:

The aloofness is completely owned. Phife Dawg and Q-Tip sound like the kind of guys who stay above the fray not because they’re timid, but because they know better.

To be sure, there is a lot of “assertive” rock that I love, too. But the confidence in the rap I’ve come to love often feels more genuine and more alive. And nothing is better when I need to get things done, or to put a bit of a strut in my step. (It should be noted that, without a doubt, throughout even among the best of the genre, this confidence often manifests itself in cockiness. And to be sure, there is a lot of rap filled with inane braggadocio. But for somebody who battles indecision, that confidence–and even, cockiness–can be inspiring, particularly when it comes from lyricists who are clever, powerful, funny, and smart.)

At least since the death of grunge, rap has been the most dominant form of popular music; it doesn’t need a defense from me, and there are many reasons to love it. This aspect is but one of them, but I think it’s one that’s been most instrumental to my recent embrace. Whatever the reason, my love of hip-hop is here to stay.

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You Gotta Move

Like most Americans, I consume far more than I produce.

This is especially true when it comes to reading and writing. My addiction to reading–especially to reading news–is staggering; it made me miss deadlines in college and makes me procrastinate at work.  I’m convinced that reading has pushed my life back years. I’m convinced that, over the last two years, if I devoted the amount of time I’ve spent reading the publications at the left of this page to being productive, I might be making news or writing it myself, instead of knowing, for instance, that links golf is harder than regular golf. (By the way, even if, like me, you know pretty much nothing about golf, that article is wonderful…probably because it’s by John McPhee).

Like all consumption, reading is easy. It is usually relaxing and even fun. Writing, on the other hand, is work. It takes time, thought, effort, and action. While technically, I currently write for a living, I write grant proposals; in the future, I hope to write more interesting things.  In order to do so, I will need to write when I otherwise would choose to read.  I will need to produce when I otherwise would choose to consume.  I will need to work when I might otherwise prefer to relax.

Writing will ultimately be more satisfying than reading, just as productivity is always ultimately more satisfying than consumption.

Thus, The Grind.

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