Learning how to establish and maintain a really workable roommate relationship has plenty of benefits in the roommate situation itself. And, there is an even larger benefit in terms of the development of a truly important skill.

In an exchange economy such as ours, the ability to interact with others in such a way that both parties maintain their attitude and goodwill and enthusiasm for the relationship is possibly one of the most important abilities of all. Experience teaches all of us that our motivation goes down when we are treated poorly - this should be self-evident. As the old gag has it, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

It is definitely a balancing act, however. It almost goes without saying that we can be at odds with each other, especially in, for example, a work setting. The boss wants you to work late; you want to get home in order to have dinner ready for the rest of the family. What is the best course of action?

Multiply this kind of a potential conflict by some enormous number and you have an idea of the complexity of a society and the importance of the ability to resolve these issues as gracefully as possible.

An important clue to the way out of these seemingly impossible situations is the concept of shared self-interest: If the boss realizes that when the employee is able to maintain his positive attitude that the company -- and the boss -- is likely to benefit, he will be more likely to meet the employee halfway. And if the employee realizes that doing the best possible job is likely to increase the company's chance for survival and prosperity, the employee is more likely to work hard to balance personal and work obligations.

Nothing new about all of this - the concept has been referred to as "win-win" for at least the last several decades. It's just that in order for it to work, everyone involved has to do more than talk about it: They have to actually do it.

Making the kinds of decisions that acknowledge the importance of decent treatment for those who are important to you, is a great way to develop this ability. And the roommate situation is perhaps the ideal environment in which to learn this all-important skill.

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