Why We Should Settle

In an ideal life we would all have everything we could ever dream of. Sports cars, model spouses, and mansions in a swanky neighborhood would all be ours in our ideal life. However, reality says this probably will not all come to us as picture perfectly as we hoped, so we must settle for what we have. This may mean settling for your 1999 Honda Accord, your non-existent significant other, and the house you rent in Trenton. When we settle on something, whatever that may be, it becomes fixed. But as Robert E. Goodin explains in his book On Settling and as an article in The New Republic reiterates, settling does not mean completely giving up. Cass Sunstein for The New Republic says, “fixity is not forever.” Instead, settling is a way to put one’s mind to rest on one matter in order to be able to strive for other things. He writes:

When we settle, we hold something—a job, a relationship, a place, an activity—as fixed. He contrasts settling with “striving.” But his most striking claim is that settling is not an alternative to striving, but its complement. The reason is that human beings cannot strive unless they keep a number of aspects of their life fixed. In that sense, settling is a precondition for striving.

Settling should not necessarily be seen pejoratively. Instead, the positive value of settling should be acknowledged and used to one’s advantage. When you settle on one aspect of life, you free up your mind to strive for another. Settle for some things now so you can strive for bigger and better things, and who knows, somewhere down the line you may be able to trade in that pre-millennium make for something from this decade.

Read the full article here.


2-27 onsettling

In a culture that worships ceaseless striving, “settling” seems like giving up. But is it? On Settling defends the positive value of settling, explaining why this disdained practice is not only more realistic but more useful than an excessive ideal of striving. In fact, the book makes the case that we’d all be lost without settling–and that even to strive, one must first settle.

We may admire strivers and love the ideal of striving, but who of us could get through a day without settling? Real people, confronted with a complex problem, simply make do, settling for some resolution that, while almost certainly not the best that one could find by devoting limitless time and attention to the problem, is nonetheless good enough. Robert Goodin explores the dynamics of this process. These involve taking as fixed, for now, things that we reserve the right to reopen later (nothing is fixed for good, although events might always overtake us). We settle on some things in order to concentrate better on others. At the same time we realize we may need to come back later and reconsider those decisions. From settling on and settling for, to settling down and settling in, On Settling explains why settling is useful for planning, creating trust, and strengthening the social fabric–and why settling is different from compromise and resignation.

So, the next time you’re faced with a thorny problem, just settle. It’s no failure.

Robert E. Goodin is professor of government at the University of Essex and distinguished professor of philosophy and social and political theory at Australian National University.

You can preview the introduction of the book here.