"Sometimes the Heart Needs Steering": Reflections on Professor Ben Ze'ev's Lecture

Every day, we experience challenges that require us to make compromises with ourselves and others. This is true of our personal lives, as well as our professional lives, just as it is true in politics, religion, and economics. On Sunday, 12 March 2017, Haifa University Professor Aaron Ben Ze’ev of the Philosophy Faculty gave the students of EMIS a comprehensive lecture on the subject of compromise in the areas of love and romance.

Professor Ben Ze’ev began by quoting Alicia Florrick, a character from the television series The Good Wife: “Sometimes, the heart needs steering.” The notion that sometimes the heart must be steered rather than followed provided the basis for Professor Ben Ze’ev’s lecture.

The professor proceeded to describe the nature of compromise as follows: First, compromise does not entail abandoning ones principles and standards; rather, it requires having a set of priorities and, if one contradicts another, cancelling the lesser in the name of preserving the greater. He said that ideals can be divided into two general categories, the economical and the political. If an ideal falls into the first category, then compromise is indeed possible, as there is no ideal that cannot be negotiated. However, if an ideal is seen as essentially sacrosanct, then compromise is likely impossible.

Love, the professor argued, incorporates a combination of the sacred and the negotiable. Providing examples, Ben Ze’ev described several women to whom he’d spoken about their marriages. Some women said they had settled for their husbands because they had thought they would be good fathers; some settled because they thought their husbands would change; and some simply said they could not go back on their decisions because the wedding invitations had already been sent out.

To conclude, Ben Ze’ev articulated three main types of compromise:  1) compromise on romantic freedom through entry into a relationship; 2) compromise on the value of the person as a person (i.e., settling for a mediocre person); 3) compromise on value of the person as a romantic partner (i.e., settling for a decent person who proves to be a low-quality partner). Overall, the professor encouraged the notion that true, profound, loving relationships involve a great deal of compromise and pragmatism. He encouraged students to be open to making compromises that may improve their lives.

Interspersed with amusing and enlightening quotations by such luminaries as Montaigne, Spinoza, Gloria Steinem, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, Professor Ben Ze’ev’s lecture was a thought-provoking and systematic treatment of the nature of and need for compromise in romantic life.