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Ed Ruggero
Author/Speaker

Ed Ruggero

Ed Ruggero, author most recently of The First Men In, helps organizations develop the kinds of leaders people want to follow. His Gettysburg Leadership Experience teaches battle-tested leadership lessons that endure today.

Ben Franklin's Town-Hall Advice

This Thursday, September 17, 2009, is the 222nd birthday of the U.S. Constitution.

All through the steamy summer of 1787, representatives from the 13 newly independent colonies voluntarily locked themselves into the sweltering meeting rooms of the Pennsylvania state house (now known as Independence Hall) to discuss their aspirations for these united states of America. The windows were shut tight and guarded; the men inside wanted to keep the public -- and the city's highly partisan newspaper editors -- ignorant of what was happening inside.

Sent to Philadelphia by their state legislatures to amend the flawed Articles of Confederation, the men began talking about something different, something completely new: A constitution that would somehow balance the powers of state and federal governments. The delegates assumed authority that had not been granted them, engaged in secret debates, and compromised and negotiated and harangued each other for weeks on end. In short, they were presumptuous -- and today we are the beneficiaries.

Delegates to the Constitutional convention were allowed to do something public figures don't get to do anymore: They were allowed to change their minds. University of Pennsylvania historian Richard Beeman, author of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, shows how the various delegations stated their positions, listened to opposing viewpoints and, on occasion, compromised and adjusted. Would such a fruitful debate even be possible today?

As entrepreneur and radio-show host Rudy Ruiz wrote recently on CNN.com, the town-hall shout-downs around health-care reform we witnessed this summer are part of "a contagious culture of closed-mindedness [that] threatens to suffocate" our national political progress.

"Increasingly, the willingness to change one's position on political issues has been misread as a mark of weakness rather than a product of attentive listening and careful deliberation."
Ruiz points out that John Kerry suffered in the 2004 election because he was branded a "flip-flopper." In our sound-bite world there is no time for discussion about whether a leader can reconsider or learn something new that changes her or his perspective.

We've substituted label-making for thinking, and the side that brands its opponents with the stickiest put-down often comes out on top. As Ruiz points out, "we tend to listen only to like-minded opinions as media fragmentation encourages us to filter out varying perspectives." Some of our most commercially successful political and social commentators are those who have staked out the most extreme positions. For them the other side is always wrong, listening is unnecessary, and compromise is a sign of weakness or selling out.

We are capable of better things.

As that 1787 convention wound down in Philadelphia, the representatives prepared to take a stand for or against the amazing--though still flawed--document before them. The oldest delegate, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, knew there were plenty of reasons to oppose the Constitution, and the argumentative delegates could sink the entire ship if they failed to compromise. The nation needed to chart a new course and a failure to come together would leave the 13 colonies struggling and conniving against one another. America would always be too weak to withstand foreign incursions, too poor to become a great nation.

The time had come, Franklin knew, for the individual members and the various states to set aside the need to be right. The 81-year-old Franklin drafted his remarks to be read by someone with a stronger voice, so transcriber James Madison wouldn't miss a word. According to David O. Stewart's book, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, Franklin said that day that through his long life, he had often been forced

by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions . . . which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.

One of the greatest homegrown American thinkers thought that the best advice he could give on this most important day was: Compromise. Franklin urged his fellow delegates to be willing to sacrifice, not their principles, but their overwhelming urge to be right. Perhaps he would offer the same advice today to his fellow citizens.

By Ed Ruggero

 |  September 10, 2009; 6:19 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Gasmonkey, do you have objective evidence that thousands upon thousands of those who didn't gain college admission consider themselves intellectually superior to everyone else? Do you think because they exercise their right to free speech that automatically implies that they consider themselves superior? Abraham Lincoln was one of the thousands upon thousands who didn't go to college... does that mean he shouldn't have contributed to the discourse of his day?

Posted by: loosecannon2 | September 17, 2009 6:43 PM
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Ben Franklin had the good fortune to live not in a democracy wherein even the most ignorant fool has been nurtured in the belief that his thoughts and opinions are the equal of anybody's. In Franklin's time, the uneducated recognized that wiser men than they rose to positions of authority, and because of that they were deferred to. No uneducated rube from the lunatic fringe dared to think his scribblings were the equal of Thomas Jefferson or John Adams. That no longer is the case. Today any high school drop-out with internet access can shout his uninformed opinion to the world, and his equally ignorant peers echo "amen" in unison. Note the thousands upon thousands who never even gained college admission, yet they believe themselves the intellectual superior to everybody else. It is those fools who serve as the political base to many elected representatives, and for that reason compromise is, to them, no prize.

Posted by: gasmonkey | September 14, 2009 3:20 PM
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Yes, old Ben's encouragement to compromise probably was key.

RESULT: Three-Fifths Compromise, racism, Civil War, Jim Crow, lynchings, Trail of Tears, an Oklahoma City bombed and burned to the ground SIMPLY because the ALL BLACK residents were so successful it became known as the "Black" Wall Street, Civil Rights, murder, KKK, and all those "wonderful" modern products of racism.

Compromise from which this nation has NEVER recovered.

Many of The President's critics simply OPPOSE A BLACK MAN AS PRESIDENT. Many are praying for him to FAIL so that they may use him as the rallying cry for "NEVER AGAIN!" In their eyes and minds Obama can do nothing right because he is Black; funny how so often many conveniently forget that he is half Black AND half White. Long ago White America decided that if you had "one drop of Negro (Black) blood you ARE BLACK." (Although everyone's blood is RED!)

Since he won the election, many Republicans, White Supremacist, and the like have rallied together to spew divisive, negative, twisted, illogical, nonsense on every issue. It's a no brainer that not everyone will agree on every issue, but people like Sarah Palin who continue spewing forth outright proven lies are threatening the stability of our nation and make me ashamed to be associated or affiliated with Republicans.

Since 1776 ONLY WHITE MEN HAVE DECIDED THE FATE OF OUR NATION. They have made so very many mistakes along the way, but if Obama makes EVEN ONE mistake it will be ANOTHER 235 years or MORE before ANY NON-WHITE is elected as our PRESIDENT. If America even lasts that long. (Remember the Roman Empire?)

Posted by: qjer6572-wpost | September 14, 2009 1:15 PM
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"One of the greatest homegrown American thinkers thought that the best advice he could give on this most important day was: Compromise. Franklin urged his fellow delegates to be willing to sacrifice, not their principles, but their overwhelming urge to be right. Perhaps he would offer the same advice today to his fellow citizens."

Excellent thinking. For instance, in the current debate on health care, one side wants a robust public option to compete with private insurers. The other side wants to prevent Death Panels from killing off grandma. One side wants to bar insurance companies from disqualifying applicants on the basis of preexisting conditions. The other side wants to impeach the Kenyan Islamo-fascist who was illegally installed in the White House by ACORN.

Surely we can find some common ground, no?

Posted by: antontuffnell | September 14, 2009 12:41 PM
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Locking the windows to keep the press out was probably the best idea they had. In these times of continuous media coverage and white-hot commentary, any compromise is made to look like weakness.

Beyond that, we focus on the stupidest things -- has anyone mentioned that NONE of the delegates to the convention could prove that he'd been born in the US?

Posted by: JoeODonnell | September 14, 2009 12:25 PM
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I would like to respond to JohnAdams1, who felt as if this article's author was commiting treason in saying that the delegates did not have the authority to compose and ratify the constitution.

All Ruggero was pointing out was that the delegates were going beyond that which they were asked to do. They were asked to modify the articles of confederation, but found no way to use that document as a basis for the kind of government that they felt to be necessary. The articles would be too weak to ensure the unity necessary to defend the new nation against foes without, or to protect the interests of the weakest states within. They began anew, creating the constitution as we know it, from scratch, and exceeding, technically, the bounds of their mandate.

Posted by: rschellinger | September 14, 2009 11:36 AM
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This argument, at least in the case of health care or any other social program, is flawed. To compromise, both parties have to be working toward an end that they both desire (in the case of the Constitution, the creation of a workable union and all of the protections that arise from that union). In the current debate, since the Republicans main goal is to eliminate all social programs, to obtain their goal, all they need to do is block progress. There is no common goal to be achieved by compromise. How does one negotiate for progress with a party who's unofficial motto is, "We're building a bridge to the nineteenth century"?

Posted by: JimZ1 | September 14, 2009 11:36 AM
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Ask yourself this.

Have any of the foregoing posters written or can you find in them the following precepts,

'I will listen with an open mind to my opponents substantive position and what they view as the pros and cons.'

'I will look for a compromise that serves both the core principles of my position while sacrificing to serve the core position of my opponent's position in the belief that this is in the best interest of the nation.'

Posted by: brwntrt | September 14, 2009 10:50 AM
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The again old Ben might have a different opinion. To quote Mr. Franklin:

" The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets, tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.

All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it."

Something to think about.

Posted by: scathew | September 14, 2009 10:44 AM
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On the other hand, old Ben might have a different opinion than we think. To quote Mr. Franklin:

" The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets, tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.

All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it."

Something to think about.

Posted by: scathew | September 14, 2009 10:43 AM
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I think house republicans offered 11 tort reform amendments to Waxman's proposal, but all were soundly rejected on pure party line vote. Allow some health care savings via Tort Reform and get republican votes, It is simple as that. Compromise!

Posted by: scottstewart1 | September 14, 2009 10:37 AM
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Franklin also used the tied bundle as a concept of reaching an agreement. That is, all arrows in the bundle are the same and stronger than any one arrow. This was based on the Iroquois confederacy of the five arrows (Onondago, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida and Seneca) were stronger than any one arrow. Note the thirteen arrows in the eagles talons to this day representing the first 13 states.

Posted by: virgin12 | September 14, 2009 10:36 AM
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"Franklin urged his fellow delegates to be willing to sacrifice, not their principles, but their overwhelming urge to be right."

But there is the rub. We are not talking about health care opponents who want to be right, they want to win. And winning means defeating any proposed reform legislation. They would rather call Obama a radical (he's not remotely close to radical), call the legislation "nationalized health care" (when it specifically is not), insist that tort reform would solve health care problems (when it accounts for only 1% of overall costs), or allow the market place to solve the problems (when it is the marketplace that causes the problems in the first place). I've even heard some politicians say there is no problem to solve. People who make such claims are not interested in facts and solving real problems, they just want their way.

This legislation is being compromised to the point of becoming useless. The marketplace has had 200+ years in this country to solve health care problems. It just keeps getting worse. The marketplace works great for TVs and refrigerators but not so well for health care. The rich get it, the poor and many in the middle don't. Every other industrialized (capitalist) country realized this decades ago.

This legislation started off significantly compromised when it didn't start with extending Medicare to everyone. Instead, it began by allowing insurance companies to keep their 30 cents of every health care dollar. Personally, I think that is more than enough compromise for one side.

Posted by: tfspa | September 14, 2009 9:59 AM
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And, to complete my thought below, WHEN are the Republicans going to be held to task for FAILING UTTERLY TO COMPROMISE?

When the Republicans had the POTUS, House and Senate, the Dems were told "Compromise or be shut out". Now that the Republicans hold neither the House, Senate nor POTUS, Democrats are still told "compromise or be shut out".

When will the REPUBLICANS be told "Compromise or be shut out"?

Posted by: snortz_the_cat | September 14, 2009 9:50 AM
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Sadly, the vitriol of some of the comments confirms the point of the article; namely that today there are too many who are unwilling or incapable of considering opinions that do not agree with their own or facts that are inconsistent with their own opinions. This probably isn't really new but it does appear to be more widespread. At the end of the day the difference between a liberal and a conservative is that liberals embrace new ideas while conservative fear anything new. This country was born out of a desire for something new. Now, those who oppose any change from the status quo believe that they are standing up for American ideals when in fact they do just the opposite.

Posted by: sg2000 | September 14, 2009 9:48 AM
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What we have is 1) Obama, who began, unfortunately, have compromised his strong position away, and 2) the Republicans, who have not given an inch. The compromise can be done when BOTH SIDES agree to discuss. For the Republicans, "compromise" means "we all agree that Republicans are correct".

What we REALLY need is STRONGER DEMOCRATS who will uphold DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES. We have UNCOMPROMISING REPUBLICANS and KISS-BUTT DEMONCRATS.

I want stronger Democrats, who insist on principled stands on Democratic principles. We get 1) strong democrats who are 2) united in their approach, and then the Republicans would see that they MUST compromise.

Posted by: snortz_the_cat | September 14, 2009 9:47 AM
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One of the issues we're facing now is that there is no longer a balance of power; the Federal government wants to run everything and that alone is enough to make people to fight back.

Posted by: morattico | September 14, 2009 9:30 AM
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Ruggero wrote:

"The delegates assumed authority that had not been granted them....."

says who? you? of course they were given authority are you completely ignorant of american history and writing of the constitution?

no one compromises blindly or foolishly with any w propositions. Would the writer think that compromise with honesty and dishonesty to achieve a half truth acceptable?

The people of this counry have a right to a free press and I for one want the suprreme court to take up articles and writers such as these that deliberately spread falsehoods such as th edelegates to the constituional convention had no 'authority"

what tripe

if govenrment won't protect the people's right to a fre press it is government tht mush be changed not the freedom of the people.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | September 14, 2009 8:54 AM
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on the issue of compromise, I remember clinton refusing to compromise with the Republican, with his war room he even twisted dem arms to get what he wanted...
politics died at that time and the dems continue his policy...

Posted by: DwightCollins | September 14, 2009 8:27 AM
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"I'm not an expert, but I'm sure socialized health care isn't the answer."

You know, we can tell you're not an expert. Because you probably don't understand that Medicare IS socialized medicine, and we like it.

You're not an expert on tort reform, either, or you would know that the reason that woman in the McDonald's case was awarded such a massive sum was... because McDonald's ignored several previous court orders to lower the temperature of their coffee after customers were seriously burned. I believe it's called "egregious disregard."

This is the real problem. How do we compromise between people who make a serious, good-faith attempt to inform themselves -- and people who watch Fox News and consider themselves informed? (One study showed that Fox News viewers are much more factually inaccurate about current events.)

Literally, we are bringing the discourse down to the lowest common denominator. Emotions aren't facts, but Fox News has made a fortune confusing the two.

I have a hard time understanding the Beltway's often-proclaimed affection for "compromise" with uninformed ideologues. Maybe because it's politically more palatable than displaying actual leadership?

Posted by: uberblonde1 | September 14, 2009 8:13 AM
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The ability to compromise is the key to a working system of government. That sounds really good however when one considers the actions of the previous administration and the majority party in congress and how they tackled the problems of governing the nation when the minority had problems with some specific legislation "The majority RULES!" was the cry then. That administration and congress managed to get the U.S. involved in a war in a country that had nothing to do with the attack against the U.S. but when anyone attempted to point this out of ask for proof that person was branded as being "unpatriotic" at the very least and maybe was called a "Traitor" too. That seemed to work very well for them since they managed to gut the U.S. treasury and place the nation some additional three or four more trillion dollars in debt. Our civil rights were removed, the right to travel without presenting massive amounts of identification and most importantly something over FOUR THOUSAND of our citizens and military personnel were killed as a direct result of the actions of the previous administration and the majority in congress! Oh, I'm sure there were other little tidbits which I could pile on there like allowing the family of the leader of the terrorist to fly out of the country on a PRIVATE AIRCRAFT the day after the terrorist attack without subjecting them to any questions from the police or intelligence agencies or their sworn soleum word that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when in fact there were none. One should also recall that the majority of the attackers were citizens of that great ally of ours Saudi Arabia as well and nothing was said or done.

Keeping in mind that record, I am all in favor of setting members of the present minority off in a corner and getting any legislation together that the current majority and Administration believe need passed and just pass it without bothering to let that other little pesky bunch of people have any say at all! I'm sure that much more could be accomplished is such action were to take place, things like healthcare reform, getting the U.S. citizens back to work, making sure that those companies who exported factories and jobs overseas pay a heavy import duty on such goods as they want to import and sell in the U.S. Take action to repair the roads, bridges and other infrastructure which is in desperate need of rebuilding. Just to name a few things. Maybe most important is to reestablish those agencies which have the minor jobs of ensuring compliance by companies with current laws and regulations or face substantial fines and penalties.

Yes, I believe that is the way the current President and Congress should go now and finally get something done. The more I think about doing business this way the better it sounds! I want to thank the previous administration and congressional majority party for pointing this out to the nation.

Posted by: hywayman200085 | September 14, 2009 5:32 AM
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Apples and Oranges. Huge, huge difference. Back then there was a consensus that a stronger national gov't was needed, the question was how strong to make it and still respect state's rights.

Right now, we have a much different situation. There is no consensus that nationalized health care is needed. None what so ever. There are, however, radical liberals (Obama, Pelosi, Reid) who are trying to ram it down our throats. Not on my watch!!!

Now if you want to make health care more affordable, here are some ideas.

1)Change young people over to catestrophic health care (much cheaper), and put the balance into health care savings accounts. In this way allow people to accumulate wealth that they might otherwise not do, and perhaps in doing so make health care in the long run self financing.

2)Tort reform. The silly lawsuits that get filed in general (example: person who burned herself by putting a cup of hot coffee between her legs), and the casino atmosphere that accompanies lawsuits needs to be stopped. Put limits on awards.

3) Focus on job creation. Create jobs, and generally speaking, health insurance will follow.

There is more (I'm not an expert), but I am sure that socialized health care isn't the answer. Droves of people come to the US to get immediate care that they would have to wait for in places like the UK and Canada. For right or wrong, money talks.

VOTE REPUBLICAN FOR CAPITALISM AND THE FREE MARKET!!!

Posted by: A1965bigdog | September 14, 2009 1:52 AM
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These days I don't think the corporate institutions will allow their congressional minions the luxury of a changed mind or an objective thought.

In addition, fundamentalist religion does not well tolerate such changes based on rational thought.

Posted by: Spectator | September 14, 2009 1:43 AM
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