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Is everything negotiable?

This happened several years ago. There was a huge storm and the hotels were filling with stranded travelers. One last traveler was told that the big hotel was full and there was not a single room left for anyone. He asked to speak to the manager. The manager confirmed that no rooms were available. The traveler asked, "You mean if President Bush turned up now, you wouldn't have a room for him?" The manager hemmed and hawed and finally said, "Well, we have the VIP suite where we would put the President." The traveler said, "I've got news for you -- President Bush isn't coming tonight. There's a blizzard out there and I have no place to go. I want you to put me up in the VIP suite." They did. The price was not discussed.

The next morning when he checked out, the traveler was presented with a huge bill for the VIP suite. He asked for the manager again. He said, "All I wanted was warm shelter in a storm. I was willing to pay your regular rate for a room. I am offering you your regular rate and I refuse to be taken advantage of to pay an exuberant VIP rate for a room that was going to be empty." Management reluctantly agreed and the traveler paid the regular rate and went on his way.

This incident is reported in a book on negotiating -- "You Can Negotiate Anything," by Herb Cohen. It's been years since I've read the book, but some of the keys to effective negotiating are patience, research, information, timing, competition, having more than one choice for making a deal and the ability to walk away. Of course, audacity doesn't hurt either. The book suggests that everything is negotiable -- even the price of the VIP suite in a big hotel.

There are companies now that do nothing but negotiate for you -- airline tickets, hotel rooms and travel arrangements in general. You can probably hire somebody to negotiate the purchase of a car, house or business as well. So here is the question -- can you negotiate a fee with a company that does nothing but negotiate? If they have competition and you can do business with more than one negotiator, you can probably even negotiate a better deal with a negotiator. But, it might help if you are negotiating for 20 travelers, rather than one.

In politics, everything is negotiable. It may be distasteful for many to realize or acknowledge that the only way to get results in politics is to compromise. Compromise in politics is known as, "The Art of the Possible." Almost every bill passed -- the best and the worst of them -- are compromises. It has always been that way. Remember the Missouri Compromise? In 1818, the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a state. At that time, there were 11 free states and 11 states where slavery was legal. The free and slave states each had 22 senators in the U.S. Senate. The admission of Missouri would have upset this delicate balance. Congress debated. And delayed. Not until 1820 was a solution reached when Maine applied for admission. Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri was allowed to write their own constitution, which permitted slavery. Another detail required a second Missouri Compromise, but at last Missouri became a state in 1821.

Yes, all the political issues of our lives yield to compromise. Voting rights, race relations, abortion, marriage, divorce, gay rights, the use of guns, capital punishment, the definition of obscenity, stem cell research, education, immigration, environment, natural resources, health care and freedom of speech. Is this weakness? Only to purists. For those who understand government, this is the give and take of democracy. As the cynics express it, "If you love sausage and the law, you should never watch either one being made."

What else is compromised? America continues to be one huge melting pot where language, food and culture are in the continual process of being compromised. And marriage, when successful, is compromised (with or without negotiations).

Can morals, ethics and principles be negotiated and compromised? We certainly hope not don't we? But, you won't find your answers here. If you want to read some of the thorniest and most interesting moral and ethical questions and situations you can imagine, you will have to read the opinions of Randy Cohen in his weekly ethics columns in the New York Times Newspaper. Cohen will answer your questions on how integrity behaves in the stickiest pickles of everyday life.