As humans, we're naturally inclined to be self-serving, and as Americans, we live in a society that completely exacerbates the need to have what we want, when we want it and how we want it.

Acting like I am any different would be pompous and, well, just plain false. I am simply a product of my environment, and I, too, experience the requisite mini-freak outs incurred by less-than-stellar 3G service or Einstein's putting the wrong cream cheese on my bagel.

I set out to be inflexible; I just like things the way I like them.

This is a column about compromise. While it seems like a very simple, straightforward idea, bargaining your ideals and selecting those that are most important to you is no small task.

How do we make decisions about what issues really matter to us and what things can be adjusted? Everyone has their own experiences and reasons for believing in things, and conceding those values can be exponentially harder than one might think.

Recently, I was reminded of just how difficult it can be to carefully evaluate ones ideals in light of the opinions of others. Last week, I attended the "Budget Simulation" event that was organized by the UT Economics Club and held at the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. Yes, this decision reveals my nerdier side – one I am not ashamed of. Besides, there was free pizza, and it actually turned out to be an incredibly enlightening experience.

The evening started out with a speaker from The Concord Coalition, a non-partisan organization that studies the federal budget and devotes themselves to educating people about the consequence of having a steep deficit.

From there we broke into teams of five or six and proceeded to go through a list – a very long one – of programs that are usually discussed when Congress tries to pass the budget every year.

Essentially, we were trying to agree on and balance a federal budget in about an hour and a half, choosing which programs to cut and which to provide with more money. While this is difficult in and of itself, my group was an interesting mix of students, an economics professor and a retired doctor. You can imagine how varying the points of view were here.

Attending this budget simulation gave me a totally new appreciation for people that actually have to make these decisions.

We like to sit in our living rooms listening to CNN or Fox News and criticize legislators for making concessions we don't like or agree with. What we don't seem to understand – or want to understand – is that sometimes the overall good in a policy outweighs that one part of it that you personally disagree with.

As an intern in a U.S. Senators office, I know first-hand what it's like to deal with angry, inflexible people who just want to rant about the way they believe America should be run. I have to talk to people like this every day, and every day I wonder if it would be easier to get things accomplished if we as a society weren't so self-serving and inflexible.

A lot of people feel like to compromise is synonymous with sacrificing your integrity.

In fact, I found a quote recently that said, "Compromise means to go just a little bit below what you know is right. It's just a little bit, but it's the little foxes that spoil the vine."

But this quote is off the mark; integrity is not always about rigidly sticking to every single ideal you value in life. Integrity is about taking the time to examine what is truly important and meaningful, and what can actually be improved with genuine compromise.

Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached xvd541@utk.edu.