Harry's Gang: Give ground for common good
January 5, 2024
Years ago, the United Way of Carlton County was in a bit of a pickle. Potlatch had just been sold to Sappi; there were layoffs and uncertainty, and the annual United Way campaign was in jeopardy. A significant amount of the money raised each year was from the good people at Potlatch, and that year the donations were way down from previous years. Thankfully, they’ve rebounded since, but that year things were tough.
Of course, the community was hurting too, and organizations and people who relied on funds from United Way had to make cutbacks in services that helped people in need, just at a time when more people were in need. It’s the classic problem in the nonprofit world.
Several organizations contacted the United Way that year and told us they understood our dilemma, but asked us to please not cut the funding to their programs. It’s admirable those groups felt so strongly about the value of their programs, but it surely didn’t help the United Way board as we struggled to distribute the funds we did have as best we could.
But one person sent us a different type of letter. In that letter, the nonprofit executive director made a suggestion: for three of the four programs United Way funded, she could accept 50 percent of the normal funding — she would make cuts and adjustments. But she also told us that she hoped we wouldn’t cut the fourth program, as it provided food and necessities to a large group of people in Carlton County.
I had to read that letter twice. Someone was willing to make a financial sacrifice for her programs, because she knew we were hurting too? But, it was true. Her agency offered to reduce its funding requests in order to help our agency, which was providing such funding. It was an incredible gesture, and my respect for this person is undying.
It’s that kind of community attitude that I love. We’re all in this together.
I was reminded of that attitude when the United Auto Workers were recently on strike. The auto workers had previously agreed to pay cuts when times were tough. But when the situation improved, the union workers wanted raises — they had shared in the hurt; shouldn’t they share in the wealth too? In the end, the auto industry recognized the concessions the workers had made, and agreed to share their new profits with them.
It’s called “compromise,” and we need to see more of it in our lives. As an attorney, I have handled cases where one side (sometimes mine) refuses to compromise, even when it’s entirely appropriate. You’ve probably heard stories about divorces where the spouses get into fights over pets or photographs or sports equipment (really!) that empty their bank accounts and make their lawyers rich. Usually, the fight is really about revenge, spite, and stubbornness — all things that are counterproductive to both sides. It’s the worst kind of case, which I try to avoid at all costs.
And it extends into politics. We often forget it’s about the general good for all of us, not just one side or the other. Politicians spend so much energy standing their ground under the guise of “fighting for you” that nothing gets done for anyone, which, curiously, seems to be the preferred outcome. With a little compromise, much would get done for everyone.
There are times, of course, when you have to hold your ground and stay firm in your belief. The problem, as I see it, is that we are making too many issues “make-or-break,” and any compromise is seen as a weakness. I’m not sure who gets to decide which issues are important enough to stand firm on your position, but I do know that it’s rare that one side is completely right and the other completely wrong.
In my United Way example, the wise agency director knew that if we all shared in the suffering, we’d all benefit in the long run. She was right. I’m reminded of this lesson often.