Celebrating Ma’at: Compromise and The Emperor

For the next 40 days, I will think about a value I have each day. I am also continuing the daily draw. I am also completing a short rite to Ma’at, and reading 10 pages a day of Dr. Karenga’s “Maat: The Moral Ideal”.


There is so much to say about the traditional interpretations of this card-power, imposing order and structure, strength, decisiveness, leadership. When I contrasted this card with today’s virtue, the first thing I thought of was a potential tag line: Compromise – it’s what leaders do.

To move forward (and to get along), we can’t always get what we want. Compromise isn’t sacrifice. We don’t forgo all of our requests, just the ones that are (hopefully) less crucial to our end goal. This can mean giving things we would rather enjoy to others.

Leaders facilitate  compromises. They consider each party’s aspirations and needs (perhaps their own) and facilitate analysis and communication. In compromise, communication and analysis are key. Often, when two parties have competing desires, it can be hard for those involved to listen, remember what’s important, and give up a few superfluous demands. Leaders aid in this listening, remembrance, and letting go.

For both parties to have any hope of striking a mutually beneficial deal, each party must know which factors are most vital to their goals and which factors are not. Each party must know what they want, and try their best to be rational and remain level-headed. It can be hard to admit certain things aren’t that important to us and let them go. It can be even harder to know they are important but must still be given away.

Compromising doesn’t mean you automatically have all of your needs met. Even if we don’t lose everything, we may still have to start over in some capacity once a compromise is complete, and we know that. This makes it harder to let go of both trivial requests and critical resources.

An alternate meaning to the word compromise is, after all, to put in harms way or to endanger.

To what extent do you consider the other person’s needs over your own? Sometimes, this feels like a question that denotes worth–who’s needs are more important (which can feel like which person is more important). Everyone has got to give something up in a compromise. But how do you decide who gives what? Especially if there’s no way each party can be made happy, and even more so when people’s identities may be tied into the topics of compromise?

The parties must decide that together. It can be easy to bring a solution to the table already and feel you’ve solved the issue. But *puts on psychologist hat* part of feeling that something is fair is feeling that you had a say in how resources were distributed, NOT just what you got out of the deal. This makes it critical, in most cases, for the terms and conditions to be mutually discussed and agreed upon. If you want an entirely objective set of rules for deciding how to partition resources, that’s fine. If the other person can help you create those rules (and agree that objective rules are needed in the first place).

The word compromise is composed of the prefix com-, meaning “together” or “in association”. Its second half is promise. Together, both parties make a promise, an agreement, on how to move forward. Whether a happy compromise is struck, or both parties must agree to something they know is necessary but repugnant, what is vital is that both parties keep to their word. If the promise is not honored, the relationship is damaged. Both parties become obligated and bound by a contract, verbal or written. An order is brought to an originally undecided or unhelpful set of circumstances.

So what of the tarot card? The emperor imposes structure and order. Not only may he be telling us to keep our word, he may also suggest having a set of mutually agreed upon guidelines for discussion and negotiation. Stating what is the most important for each side can facilitate a productive conversation and allow everyone to know what the other most fears losing.

The emperor also urges us to be fair–to others and ourselves. Standing up for ourselves in a negotiation is something we should do, in my opinion. But we also shouldn’t use all the leverage we have to get the other person to agree to the short end of the stick.

But, just as important as keeping your word and remaining fair, is remembering to involve and respect the other person you are compromising with.


You can’t always get what you want…but if you try, sometimes, you just mind find, you get what you need.” -Rolling Stones



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