Friday, October 18, 2013
What's the Answer?
Many years ago I noticed that every opinion poll I saw reported that Americans were overall dissatisfied with the direction of the country. For example, this Hart Poll shows that on over 40 occasions over the last four years when that question was asked not once did the percentage thinking the country was headed in the right direction exceed those with the opposite view. For over 20 years results from many different polls are consistent with this finding.
It didn’t matter which political party was in charge or who was asking the question, with few exceptions America’s opinion has been that we were headed the wrong way. The last 249 essays are based on a theory that we, not the government or some other advocacy group, hold the solution to our dissatisfaction. We can make America better, but we must change our approach to defining the core problems and not continue to deal with the surface symptoms. When we look deeply, we find that our behavior, not a failure of government caused most of our problems. Changing behavior, not electing a new crowd of politicians is the answer. The only thing politicians do is blame each other for problems and look for painless, quick-fix relief for these symptoms.
Here’s how it works. Behavior generally has corresponding consequences. Call it Karma, God’s justice or whatever, but eventually bad or negligent behavior leads to trouble, while positive behavior leads to favorable outcomes.
Behavior, however, is such as broad term. It includes all our words and actions, the decisions we make. How do we track and classify it? To make sense of a long list of possible actions, I have chosen five categories or dimensions. A wide range of behavior can be condensed into these five areas. Whenever I cite an example, I also specify which dimension it falls under. As I give examples, it becomes clear that weaknesses and errors in the five dimensions are really the source of many of our so-called crises, as individual choices build into societal consequences. The long list of problems we hear about every day, from obesity to healthcare to education to discrimination to retirement insecurity and many more, are really the accumulation of faulty individual decisions.
An immediate advantage of this approach is that when you talk about behavior, you are barred from labeling people. You can’t say someone has a bad attitude or someone is an extremist or someone is worthless or uncaring or hateful or attach any other name or description. It serves no purpose to criticize motives; just deal with the behavior. Behavioral observations deal with words and actions – he said this or did that. See how different this is already from the way our politicians (and many private citizens) act today. Without this approach all we get is a firestorm of insults and accusations without any real progress. No wonder Americans think we are headed in the wrong direction!
Now I have 250 essays on this theme and will continue to present examples of behavior in the key dimensions. The news is dominated by political disputes, but I don’t comment on politics. The answers are not to be found in Washington. The answers are in our behavior, and I don’t expect to run out of examples very soon.
My objective of these short essays is to inspire a group of people to think about the problems in a different way, to show you what to look for, to get more people to adopt a behavioral approach. Look at what we and our neighbors are doing to make the situation worse. I know that tolerance is very trendy these days, but must we be tolerant of behavior that is sure to lead to problems? Remember, it’s not about beliefs and attitudes; it’s about actions and decisions, behavior that has consequences, consequences that add up to societal crises, the same crises that keep the media and politicians stirring us into a panic to distract us from the real answer.
It’s not time to panic. It’s time to join the team and spread the word that improving behavior is the only real solution.