wholepeace

Just Do Something, Anything — except solve the problem.

In No Particular Path on February 27, 2022 at 10:28 am

The climate crisis is worsening, so we debate whether to pass a carbon tax or just keep recycling.  Should we go with wind power, solar, or thermal?  Maybe we should go back to building big dams.  Nah, let’s just call fossil fuels like natural gas “transitional,” and discuss the possibilities of “clean coal.”

Overt racism and misogyny are reenergized.  Let’s make a mixed-race woman Vice-President.  We’ll appoint an African American woman to the Supreme Court.  Nah, how about we just stop our kids from reading or talking about these things.  Also, let’s make sure they don’t see any of it on television.

Our LGBTQ+ youth are committing suicide at an alarming rate.  Let’s set up a hotline.  Or we could just make being trans illegal.

The country’s wealth gap is widening and the middle class is disappearing.  Let’s raise the minimum wage inadequately, let’s increase taxes tentatively on the super wealthy.  Or let’s just promote exciting stories about billionaires doing exciting things with their obscene wealth; like trying to end a disease somewhere or grow food somewhere else.  Or something really exciting, like building their own space ships and making even more money charging other super-rich people millions of dollars for space-tourism adventures.

Pick a problem. Any problem.  Now slip it back into the deck.  And is this your card?  The one that says, “All right.  Let’s . . . do . . . well . . . something.  Surely there’s a law we can pass, someone we can give an honor to, or a day or a week or a month we can spend talking about good stuff peripherally related to it.  Is there someone we can bomb?”  Or is it this one, with the picture of the ostrich looking for a hole to put its head in?  And the holes are labelled things like “ban it,” “oppress it,” “deny its existence,” and “call it socialist.”

We are most certainly a more polarized citizenry than I can remember our being in my lifetime.  Far too many of us are living at the extremes, and the things we want to do, believe we need to do, defy compromise.  But the fundamental problem isn’t our divided society, it’s something we all seem to agree on, though we may not realize it.

We prefer actions over solutions.

Solutions are hard.  Actions are easy.  Solutions can be expensive.  Actions can be cheap.  Solutions take time and patience.  Actions are quick and we can say we did something right away.  Solutions require all, or nearly all, of us to be part of them.  Actions can be done by those few people we elect to do those things so we don’t have to worry about them, or by those who want to do them.

So, we eschew solutions to our problems in favor of an action here, an action there; like taking one lick every few years at a lollipop, thinking we’ll eventually get to the special treat in the center.  Or our kids will.   Or their kids.  As long as we, and they, can keep licking.

And we think it’s a virtue.  Compromise and patience are always good things.  Better to do something than nothing.  And there is some truth in that.  Each extreme sees their actions as doing something good.  And the things we may do aren’t necessarily bad things to do.  Some of them make a real positive difference in people’s lives.  Maybe other people’s lives, or maybe just our own.  But they make a difference.

Allow me to interject here, that I am a progressive, and I have some very strong opinions about which actions are doing good and which are causing unconscionable harm.  I have debated these things elsewhere, and will continue to do so.  For the moment, though, I want to focus specifically on solutions versus actions.

Within the political divisions currently playing out, the differences in our actions have, themselves, become destructive, even deadly.  Now, more than ever, we need a larger plan.  We need to be working more comprehensively on solutions, not just chipping away at our problems on one side and trying to bury them on the other.

I have said before that there are no isolated incidents.  There are no problems that exist without context.  Like our natural world, our personal, social, economic, and political realities are an ecological system in which everything is connected.  The wealth gap, for example, is not simply a problem of our capitalist economic system.  It exists within a context of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, sexual and gender bias, religious intolerance and self-righteousness, white male privilege, and the destructive exploitation of the natural environment.  That isn’t even close to an exhaustive list.

And the effects are reciprocal.  Racism isn’t a separate problem that can be solved separately.  The climate crisis cannot be resolved in isolation from the economic imbalances or racial prejudices.  You see abortion as a problem?  You cannot ignore poverty, ignorance, racism, or misogyny.

This is what has been behind ideas such as the Green New Deal.  This is what we can learn from critical race theory (the real thing, not the bastardized versions being promoted on the right).  This is why we need science and the arts and history and philosophy, all of these, as part of the discussion.

We do need to prioritize, to triage, of course.  We do need to see that this will take time.  But we need to start seeing everything we do as part of a larger plan, a comprehensive solution that looks beyond the current actions and imagines a better world.  And our actions need to be larger, bolder.  We need persistence as well as patience.  We need courage to tackle the hard work, commitment to spend the necessary resources, the wisdom to see that the solutions will never be just about us, about what we will gain individually or group by group.  Patience isn’t license to procrastinate, it’s being willing to take the time to do it right.  Compromise, properly employed, isn’t about finding some imaginary middle between two extremes, it’s about being willing to see that there can be no solution that will not require something of us that we do not yet want to give.

It is way past time to stop taking actions, and start finding solutions.

New Year’s Day, 2022.

In PeaceAble on January 1, 2022 at 10:55 am

This might be good time to remember that the difference between yesterday and today at this time is simply 24 hours.  If today is a new beginning, a chance to change things for the better or to continue with what has been, then so was yesterday, and so will be tomorrow.

We might use this day to make our resolutions or express our hopes for what lies ahead, but there is no magic in it.  And, except for the number of times we have circled the sun since the creation of our calendar, literally nothing else of significance begins today.  There is nothing special happening today that will take us closer to universal healthcare, the revitalization of out democracy, the end of hunger, economic equity and a sustainable economy, unity rather than polarization, the full establishment of equal treatment under the law and in the society at large for women and minority populations, the freedom of all people to fully express their loving relationships with whomever they choose, or any of a myriad other problems we currently face.

Every single day is the ending of one 365-day cycle and the beginning of another.  And none of them are magical.  So, don’t waste your time making resolutions for the entire year.  Rather, get up each of the next 365 days and ask yourself if there are any resolutions you can make for that day only.  They can be as small as you need them to be or as large as you feel you can handle.  They can be for you alone, to make yourself a better person; or they can seek to address, in whatever way may be in your power, changes that might make better your family, your community, your nation, or the entire world.

Some days, even the smallest and simplest resolutions will not bear fruit.  Most days, our grandest ones will fall short.  But by making the habit of thinking about the impact of our intentions, of looking to use our daily actions to move forward, to make a difference where we can, we might begin to see that our problems are not insoluble, our differences are mostly based on illusions, and our future is shaped by the next moments of a billion of us all over the planet, on each of 365 days in a row going on 2022 years by our current reckoning.

Happy New Year.  Happy New Day.  Happy New Hour.

Whatever you do with each – relax and enjoy them, take a stand, start a project, express your love – I wish for us all that they may move us forward – whatever that direction might prove to be.

Teaching Real Life Skills

In No Particular Path on April 16, 2021 at 4:16 pm

I’m seventy-three years old.  I was educated K-12 in a public school in a small town.  During my lifetime, I have learned how to do, and have done the following:

Change a tire, change the oil, replace the spark plugs (and not mix up the wires), replace the distributer, and Gerry-rig, then replace, an accelerator cable, and repair and replace a muffler.

Replace the transmission and later the whole engine in a Volkswagen.

Repair and replace electrical fixtures, and electrical appliances.

Build a wall in my house, install different types of doors, paint inside and outside walls, and wallpaper a room.

Grow my own vegetables, gather my own food, and cook entire meals, from salad to desert.

Cut and chop my own firewood.

Balance a checkbook and do my own taxes.

Do my own laundry, make my bed, and clean my house.

Raise children, including changing diapers, and dealing with sickness.

Understand important issues, develop an informed opinion, and participate as a citizen in a democracy.                                                                                                                                                 

I was never taught specifically how to do any of these things in public school.  Aside from one course (usually “Home-ec” for girls and shop for boys – yikes!”), what I was taught were the basic skills of language and reason.  The language not just of reading and writing English (and in my case, some German and Latin), but also the languages of mathematics, and science, and history, and social studies, and the arts.  I was taught how to use those things to understand and analyze and solve problems.  And I was taught to find appropriate and useful information when I needed it to solve new problems and accomplish new tasks.

I have, of course, not done all of these things with equal skill, and have made mistakes along the way, but that’s how life is.

As an adult I have done a variety of jobs, from farm worker to short order cook to soda jerk to dishwasher.  I have participated in the arts in a variety of ways. 

And I eventually became a teacher, teaching both high school and college.

So, when I see someone talking about how they think our schools should be teaching what they call “life skills” such as the things I have listed above, instead of things like algebra II, or art and music, or foreign languages, because the students “will never use them,” then I want to tell them that they do not understand what education is, or what essential “life skills” actually are.

The specific tasks of life will be different for each student.  Not all will need to grow food, not all will need to be DIY mechanics or carpenters, not all will need to cook for themselves or care for and raise children, not all will need to manage their own money or do their own taxes.  But every one of them will need to know what to do when life presents them with a challenge or an opportunity that their public-school education could not have anticipated with specific instruction.  Every one of them will need to know how to reason, and solve problems, and make good personal decisions, and live with other people as a citizen.  Every one of them will need to be able to communicate with others who will help them with the things they cannot, themselves, do.  Every one of them will need to know how to create a life that is greater than just eating and working and sleeping, but is fulfilling and creative in whatever ways they might desire.

The old saying “give someone a fish, they will eat for a day; teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime” leaves off the third option.  Teach someone how to learn, how to reason, how solve problems, handle challenges, create the life they need; and they will not be limited to eating fish just to survive.

%d bloggers like this: