Being careful with your language can show sensitivity, compassion, and at least some tolerance in an increasingly intolerant country. As a writer, words matter, that is why I believe we should not sugarcoat what we face as a nation and as individuals. Let’s not waste time calling things formidable challenges when they are big problems. America used to be able to solve big problems. As a nation, we are best when we live our values.
It is easy to be a bit romantic and forget about how horrible this nation used to be for women before suffrage, or African Americans before civil rights, or members of the LGBTQ community until very recently. How poorly we treated our elderly, the mentally ill, and non-land owners. History’s canvas sometimes gets painted with a lighter touch. Hangings were common in my beloved city of Boston; the carcasses of criminals left out to publicly rot. The Son’s of Liberty tarred and feathered other human beings. A blind eye was cast in the slave trade.
We forget we were founded as a violent nation. We picked off British Regulars while hiding in the woods. At the time we were thought of as savages, a term still offensive to Native Americans, but we took pride in our actions. Yet, when used against us in modern quagmires, we consider it barbaric.
The American spirit is always divided between those who look at us being on the continent as a matter of ‘Divine Providence’ and those who consider the nation a melting pot and that our greatest strength is incorporating the best ideas from everyone.
Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Americans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” It is in that vein of faith I remain hopeful for America, but today a significant portion of our population is apathetic. Sure, some are angry, but they are also lazy. Some are active but are whirling without a sense of purpose. I am not so sure Americans are digging in and trying everything with the industrious and compassionate spirit we have always called upon. It can be taxing, but civil debate and disagreement coupled with pragmatism and searching for common ground are hallmarks of a democracy. Today, our attempts sometimes seem to be halfhearted, temporary or expedient. We share our passion for the detestability of our opponents; political or imagined, not the pursuit of our dreams or the betterment of others.
We are not trying hard enough. We are thinking less, worrying more, and outsourcing our leadership to other nations, or corporations. As individuals, we are all responsible for the eroding spirit and grit because we are complacently letting it happen. We celebrate the First Amendment by giving the microphones to crackpots, then undermine the gesture by reporting the fear and hate they spout as fact rather than opinion. We are focused on symptoms and finding ways to coat, soothe, and relieve them rather than solving the core problems that are making us ill. We elect leaders who moan and complain about the same things rather than those who roll up their sleeves and work for our mutual betterment. We spend a lot of energy doing very little to move forward and here are a sample of our results:
- 37% of Americans are obese
- 1.2 Million American High School students drop out each year
- We carry a growing debt of $19 Trillion
- We are #1 in Oil Consumption, #2 in Coal Consumption and #1 in Illegal Drug Consumption
- 2.2 Million of our citizens are incarcerated, giving us the largest prison population on the planet
We can do better. We must do better. We can begin by teaching our children and each other how to dream big, think profoundly, decide pragmatically and lead courageously.
There are no shortages of serious problems yearning to be solved. Pick one.
Below are steps to help you begin to solve the problems that are within your ability to solve. Get someone to join you if it looks like too much work. Being defeated from within helps no one.
- Write down the problem or challenge that you need to solve.
- Describe the desired state that could exist without the problem.
- Describe WHY that state is desired.
- Create a specific and measurable goal to make your intention specific and real.
- Set criteria on how to find solutions to the problem.
- Brainstorm a list of alternative solutions.
- Narrow the list and pick the “best few” options.
- Assess each option’s feasibility and potential risks versus gains.
- Reach a tentative agreement with stakeholders of the problem.
- Put some resources toward the best fall back plan.
- Firm up the final decision and announce it to those affected.
- Develop an action plan to go forward.
- Implement the action plan with confidence, commitment, and passion.
- Review, assess and celebrate progress.
Trolling is effortless, and bluster is cheap. Find a problem, preferably the one you complain about most often, and put your head, heart, and hands into solving it.
Also published on Medium.