What’s Wrong with Being Chicken?

I’ve never played chicken. Two people drive towards each other on a collision course and the first to swerve out of the way is the “chicken”? Yeah, no thanks. The one who sticks it out long enough and never changes course is the “winner”. I have a few friends who have played this game, mostly because they had a big, intimidating vehicle that would win every time. Too bad the winner doesn’t get a cool name like “fox” or something.

Watching similar games played over and over again in politics has me thinking. What’s wrong with being “chicken”? Why is it that most often admiration is given to the person or side who has the stronger will, the bigger truck, the one who never swerves or gives in?

People argue that there are certain things you just can’t negotiate, can’t discuss, can’t compromise. It’s black or white, right or wrong. Not grey, not kinda right — one or the other. The only choice, on certain issues, is to never swerve.

Agreed. But I would argue that for these non-negotiable truths or circumstances, we aren’t in a challenging position, starting from opposite sides, but rather headed in the same direction. It just takes looking a little outside of ourselves to notice that what someone else is saying agrees with us rather than taking it as a direct challenge. It’s hard not to be one track minded when certain things are important to us.

So whether we really are coming from opposite ends of an issue, or whether we have yet to realize we already agree, I hope I’m not the only one that sees value in swerving occasionally or at least slowing down. I know it’s not easy, especially for those of us with strong opinions and even stronger wills. That willingness to swerve from our plotted course doesn’t come naturally.

Observe any two-year-old.

My youngest stubbornly insists on wearing a certain outfit or says she wants to do something herself. I admire her courage and independence, but everything has its time and place. I let her do as much as she can, but at some point maturity needs to have a chance to grow. I need some flexibility to negotiate with her and she needs to eventually learn how to make better, more informed decisions. Sometimes I can be the chicken, but she needs to take her turn as well. And at some point she’ll realize we both want the same thing.

But we don’t just negotiate with two-year-olds. It’s family members, friends, and neighbors. Our representatives negotiate for us at the various levels of government. What do we do when the negotiations aren’t going well? Do we encourage our side to stand firmer? Do we refuse to swerve? Are we relying on our monster truck to make sure we get our way? Or get a bigger, monster-ier truck? Even if we win, is it because we’re right or because we totally wrecked things for everyone else?

More importantly, is it worth it?

I argue that while not the object of the game, the person who swerves, the “chicken”, is actually the one who saves everyone from catastrophe. By sacrificing pride and the desire to win, the one who yields has a better perspective of what really matters.

So I ask, what’s wrong with being chicken? What’s wrong with compromising? Why not be the mediator, the moderate, the person who can see more than one way out?

I’m far from perfect but I hope that whenever my pride is challenged, when someone points out I’m wrong or narrow-minded, I take a moment to think about what sacrificing my pride could do to help others. It’s impossible that I am right ALL the time. No one is right all the time. It’s impossible to win every argument. Personally, I’ve learned a whole lot more when I make the effort to see multiple sides of an issue. So why not try seeing a different point of view? Why not swerve a little, drive up to my opponent, roll down the window and have a real conversation?

We might stumble upon a better, smarter game — one in which everyone wins.

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