Friday, November 6, 2015

Refresher III

Every 6 to 9 months it is worthwhile reviewing what these short essays are about.  Just last week I heard another newscaster remark that the latest poll shows Americans' opinions lean two-to-one in the direction of the country headed in the wrong direction.  The question comes up regularly on opinion polls and the majority has been on the "wrong direction" side without exception for at least the last decade.

We get messages every day from the media and politicians. They constantly confront us with news of failures, dangers and crises:  our education system, retirement insecurity, the disappearing middle class, childhood obesity, healthcare costs, gasoline prices, food contamination, campus violence, climate change, epidemics, frivolous lawsuits, Internet scams, teens not getting enough sleep and many more.  Advertisers play on our fears and insecurities to sell us stuff we don't really need.

Our natural reaction is to look to our political leaders for help, but the dissatisfaction shown in the polls goes beyond politics or which party is in power.  What is worse, political discussion of these issues often deteriorates into name-calling and accusations.  Our natural reaction is wrong.  The solutions will not come from Washington.  The problems are ours to solve.

Most of our core problems can be traced to common behaviors of citizens, individually and as a group: what they say, what they do, decisions they make and how they react to news and advertising.

Behavior has consequences.  A good decision usually yields favorable outcomes.  Problematic behavior yields the opposite.  It's true of individuals and true of society as a whole.  Most of those issues and crises can be traced to the cumulative effects of problematic behavioral patterns in five key categories:  Economic Understanding, Discipline, Responsibility, Critical Thinking and Perspective.

To look at the many different choices and actions taken all over America every day and classify them into these few dimensions takes some skill and practice, but doing so shows definite patterns.  Americans make poor personal choices about their health and finances, encouraging others to do the same by spreading unsubstantiated fears and bad medical advice on social media.  They waste time and money and compromise their stated values by succumbing to the lure of advertisers, the hype of pop culture and the scare tactics of the media and politicians.  They seem unaware of how financial decisions and programs can be traced through society to anticipate and predict unintended consequences.  They refuse to delay gratification and look to blame others for their failings.  These small actions lead to bigger problems, both personal and societal.

By classifying behaviors into these five dimensions, it is possible to pinpoint and address core problems and to make a persuasive case that improvement in these dimensions will result in a stronger and healthier society.  Focusing only on the behavior, and requiring everyone else to do so, puts an end to the bickering, accusations, name-calling and insults that seem to dominate our communications.  It leads to a civil and specific discussion of real solutions.

Examples abound – over  460 posts in the last 4.5 years.  They appear every Monday and Friday to show clear cases where the behavioral failings lead to nearly all our societal problems.

The good news is that we shouldn’t have to wait for the next election.  That won't change a thing in terms of most of these problems.  Since the problems result from the accumulation of poor individual behaviors, the answers lie in changing those behaviors.  Real American Solutions are in our hands.

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