What it is: A compromise is a settlement of a dispute in which all sides make concessions.

What it means: Sometimes concessions are made grudgingly, and the agreement may later break down. Sometimes there is a determined attempt to find an idea that everyone involved agrees on - this is sometimes called a consensus. An example of compromise amid conflict is the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland: most Nationalists agreed to put aside their wish for a united Ireland, and most Unionists agreed to allow the Republic of Ireland some involvement in Northern Irish matters. Another example is the Compromise of 1850, an agreement made during the American Civil War which dealt with the spread of slavery into new States. Under the Compromise, it was agreed that there should be no slaves in California, but slaves who tried to escape from the Southern slave states should be hunted down more relentlessly. This example shows how compromises are often unpopular, in that nobody is satisfied and many suffer. 'Compromise' can also mean to weaken or undermine, as in 'The peace plan was compromised by an outbreak of armed violence', or 'the leader's moral stance was compromised by revelations that he had lied'.

Think about it: Few people get through life without making compromises in their relationships with other people at home, school/college or work. But some people talk proudly of how they 'will never compromise'. Many say that compromises are 'the worst of both worlds'. It's worth thinking about what can make one compromise pointless and unsatisfactory, and another a hopeful way to end a conflict. Does it depend on who the compromisers are? Or on what it is they are compromising about? Or on their attitude to compromise - 'giving in' or 'doing the right thing'? Could a compromise fail because people weren't clever about what choices were on offer, and didn't look for a 'third way'?