When I was just a tad younger, and full of the conviction that comes with a little knowledge, I regarded compromise with contempt. Morality, it seemed to my righteous 25-year-old self, was black and white. People were good, or they were crooks and sellouts. Ideas were right, or they were damned lies. I am reminded of that era of personal certainty fairly often these days, as I tiptoe through the smoking, crater-filled war zone of talk radio, cable TV, and the more partisan print outposts. Republicans, at the moment, are in disarray, because they cannot find a presidential candidate who suits their Platonic—or Reaganesque—conservative ideal (see Page 12). Democratic gay activists are spurning a workplace anti-discrimination law because it fails to cover men trapped in women’s bodies (see Page 17). Congress, meanwhile, finds it necessary to rub Turkey’s face in its 1915 slaughter of Armenians, even though that curiously belated spasm of finger wagging has alienated one of our few allies in the Muslim world. It’s the principle that counts—to hell with the consequences!

I’ve forgotten exactly when, but it occurred to me somewhere along the road of middle age that I need not be chronically outraged. Some of the people I scorned, I came to see, were just doing their best in difficult circumstances; life was gray, not black and white. To my chagrin, I saw that I, too, was sometimes driven by self-interest, not ideals; that I was capable of betrayals, pettiness, and mistakes of stunning stupidity. It was humbling to step down from the pedestal of purity—but, at the same time, wonderfully liberating. It’s exhausting, as well as juvenile, to hold the world to standards you can’t meet yourself. - William Falk