Half a loaf is better than no bread. – English Proverb
What does that mean?
Sometimes we want it all. Sometimes we just don’t want to compromise. Sometimes we won’t take no for an answer. And we risk losing it all.
This quote is about being sensitive to the situation. There will be times when you can, and will, get the whole loaf. But there are times when, in trying to get the whole thing, you will end up with nothing.
To me, that is what this quote is warning us against. Recognition of those times when we will end up with nothing is important. It allows us to get half when the alternative is none.
That is a lesson far too few idealists recognize, and they harm themselves and their movement in the process. They end up with no bread at all. That’s not a very good strategy, is it?
Why is being able to compromise important?
To many people, compromise is a word which leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They are loath to say it, and even less likely to do it. But those who are grounded in reality realize that you don’t always have a choice in the matter. Anyone with kids realizes that sometimes the best you can hope for is half a loaf.
The same goes with personal relationships. Do you always get your way when you are with friends, or with a special someone? Unless that someone is your dog, you are probably out of luck, right? If you have trouble staying in a relationship and you always get your way, perhaps that might be a sign. Just saying…
If everyone insisted on getting their way all the time, life would get pretty ugly. You may have been with a group of friends like that, or in a meeting where the attitudes and egos were out of control. That’s no fun. No one wants to be in that situation, unless they think they can win most of the time. And who wants to be around that?
By compromising, especially on issues in which have little value to you or in which you have little interest. In doing so, you build up a little stock, so that when something important to you comes up, you can be a little more forceful. If you haven’t yielded on the little things, it will be harder when it matters.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Where do you tend to insist on getting your way? If your answer was “everywhere,” you might need some help. If you are a bit more flexible, you might not insist as often. But what is important is to examine which areas of your life you to be less flexible and where you are more so. What matters to you?
I try to yield when I have little interest, or when the choice is between several good options. I try to only dig in my heels and resist when there it is something which means a great deal to me. This has given me a reputation as being very easy-going and not a pain to be around, especially when making decisions.
By picking my battles, I can be better prepared for the squabble to come. “But you got to choose last time” is one of my favorites. Even my kids get in on it now. Whoever got to cast the tie-breaker last time sits the next one out. Or sometimes one will give in if the other selects something they both like, and be better prepared for the next battle.
What is important to you? Where do you put your foot down, and insist (or at least argue strongly for or against) on a particular outcome? Is it a part of your life, such as at home, at work, with certain groups of people, etc? Or is it only certain topics which get you to speak up, such as a particular destination or type of food?
By knowing this in advance, you can better prepare yourself to yield at other times. What is your threshold for less-than-ideal outcomes? If you are sufficiently flexible, and can handle a solution that is just OK, you can save your spirited debate for when the choice seems to be headed for something truly yucky.
Which brings us to the things you really don’t like. You may already have considered this when you were thinking of things which matter to you, at the beginning of this section, but if not, take a moment. Is there a kind of food you detest? Is there a place where you would simply refuse to go? What is worth fighting over?
Keep these ‘yuck!’ motivations in mind as well as the ones which make you say ‘oooh!’ Everything in the middle is a varying shade of meh up to good. Keep your powder dry until it’s time to go for an ‘oooh!’ or avoid a ‘yuck!’ You can still apply subtle hints or pressures to help guide a process, but save the fireworks for the big issues.
We all want the whole loaf every time. But your overall results are much better if you always get half a loaf and go for the whole thing from time to time.