Does it Pay to Appease? (Part 2 of 2)

Conclusion of Friday’s column.

I don’t mean to imply that entitlement is always wrong. Let’s say you buy a new computer. You get home, carefully read the instructions, and the computer doesn’t work, so you take the computer back to the store. The clerk attempts to start the computer and agrees it does not work. You are fully entitled to either a full refund or a computer that works. If the clerk said to you, ‘Well, how about this? I’ll meet you halfway. We’ll give you the less expensive model.’ Of course you’d be upset, because in this particular case you actually are entitled to the whole thing. In the case of poor Lizzie, since her brother believes he’s entitled to the whole estate, there’s no reasoning with him.

This is why it’s dangerous to meet people halfway, or attempt to appease them when it’s not called for. This is why reasoning with people—including rational, mutually agreed upon compromises—sometimes just doesn’t work. It’s not that reason itself is flawed; it’s just that people are not always open to it. Some people are closed to reason ‘on principle.’ More often, it’s their mood, and, in a better mood, you can reason with them. The bottom line here is that reason, by definition, must be a two-way street. When that two-way street isn’t present, don’t blame yourself. Just accept it and move on. If you’re dealing with someone in a bad mood, then return to the issue when their mood is better. If you’re dealing with someone who habitually rejects reason, and feels entitled to everything at all times, then stop trying to do the impossible. Accept that you can’t have a reasonable, beneficial relationship with someone who doesn’t reason back. It would be like expecting to have a conversation with someone who cannot or will not talk.

Appeasing is not only ineffective; it’s destructive. This is because it’s based on a logical contradiction. If Lizzie believes her brother is right, and that he’s entitled to the whole house and more, then why is she offering to meet him halfway? She should simply hand it over to him. From his point-of-view, she’s a dishonest hypocrite. He has stated, very clearly, that the house should be his—not hers. So when she offers an olive branch that amounts to something much less than the house, what happens? He gets even angrier.

On a broader, more dangerous scale, this is what’s happening with terrorism in the world today. Terrorists are, by definition, the most irrational and evil people imaginable. Islamic terrorists are particularly bad because they ‘rationalize’ their violence with religion. The United States, while certainly capable of tough talk, essentially tries to negotiate with terrorists—no matter how much our government claims otherwise. Iran, the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, is given a place at the bargaining table. The same is true of North Korea, a violent government operating with a different set of motives from the Iranians. By negotiating with these sorts of people, the United States is not only being ineffective; the United States is actually making its enemies even bolder. We say to North Korea, in effect, ‘Stop building those nuclear bombs, now. And, if you do, we’ll supply your country—impoverished by Communism—with all the fuel and power you need for a couple of more years.’ In short: We’ll meet you halfway. North Korea always takes the free fuel and power, of course, but once it runs out, what happens? More threats and bluster. One day, they might actually possess the power to act on the threats and bluster. If so, we’ll only have our own government to blame for operating on the false, contradictory and dangerous premise of appeasement.

Appeasement, like anything based on a contradiction, cannot work. Appeasement can be dangerous and is always dysfunctional. It may not make any sense to fight with an unreasonable person (leaving aside obvious self-defense), but it likewise makes no sense to attempt reason and compromise with an unreasoning person. As the philosopher Aristotle said, ‘A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time.’ Learn from Lizzie’s error. Trying to meet somebody halfway when he insists he’s entitled to the whole thing is futile.

It’s best to simply hold your ground—and move on.