Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions to Undefined Problems

I say it often, and that is, I am fascinated by behavior I don’t understand, which is part reason why I don’t think I ever made a very good evangelical. I found myself more interested in knowing why you believe what you believe than in me trying to explain to you the Good News. Even though I was trained and capable of sharing the 4 Spiritual Laws in my sleep, I was never quite comfortable with the approach. I always found myself asking more questions than giving answers.

While I do hold to my opinions, I’m not one to feel the need to argue a point. Political news shows that get pundits riled up and shouting at each other lead me to switch channels to something a little mellower. Contention creates drama, which some people seem to thrive upon, but it wears me out and makes me want to change the subject.

Our current political discourse is rife with this kind of quarrelling, which is both repulsive and alluring. I’m turned off by the polarization, but I am drawn in like a mouse to the cheese because there is so much belief and behavior I don’t understand. And I want to know why.

Take the Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street extremes. Some would say these are, in essence, the same reaction to the same economic concerns, with the main difference being one is far right and the other is far left. I’m not sure it’s that clear cut, but for purposes of laying out my thought process, let’s use it as a starting point.

The Political Right becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Tea Party. It creates a fairly understandable message; smaller government, lower debt, lower taxes, and campaigns on this platform, and eventually made a difference in last year’s midterm election. As I see it, the source of their anger was quantifiable and practically addressed. Cutting government spending and lowering taxes, whether you agree with it or not, is something that can be easily understood and enacted upon.

On the other hand, The Political Left, also becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Yet its message is not quite so clearly articulated. It lacks order and identifiable spokespersons. It is seen by the general public as chaotic and immature. Described as a movement of hippies, Marxists, anarchist, and losers, the effort lacks cohesion and clarity, and therefore dismissed by those who are unsympathetic.

But to the thoughtful I would offer an appeal to not write the movement off carte blanche. You may disagree with the solutions being offered and miss the root cause of the provocation in the first place.

The first step in any kind of problem solving process is to first identify the problem. It sounds simple enough, but it fails to get done in many cases. Leadership must ask, “What is the problem we need to address?” and assist everyone involved to at least agree on what the answer to that question is. But too often we leap over this initial first step into providing our own answers to how we think the problem should be handled and heave blasting critiques to the solutions offered by those with whom we disagree.

In casual conversations with people, I like to ask those with opposing views if they know what problem the Tea Party is trying to address. I’m amazed at some of the first things out of the mouth are not defined problems, but characterizations of what they think of the movement; bigots, racists, homophobes, etc. When I do the same for the other side, and ask for opinions of what the Occupy Wall Street Movement stands for, I get the same kinds of replies; losers, lazy, socialists, freaks.

No problem identified yet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to oversimplify the two movements from my vantage point. As I see it, the Right is trying to address a practical problem, while the Left is feeling the brunt of a spiritual matter.

Our country has a debt crisis. I would hope that is obvious to see. Our government spends more than it takes in. This is not a hard concept to understand. It’s the essence of sustainability. Produce more than you consume, and you can count on a sustained future. If we all agree on this, then we can get to work on a solution. Whether you think there should be more tax cuts, tax hikes, taxing the rich, cut this, cut that, spend more, spend less; these are solutions, however differing they may be. But before we tear each other apart for our solutions, have we agreed upon a common problem?

But our country is also in a spiritual crisis, and this one is a whole lot harder to pin down and address. By spiritual I don’t imply religious, but I would like to believe than an atheist, agnostic and religious person can all agree that Greed is a problem. Greed has wrecked havoc on our financial system, and not just within our borders, but around the globe as well. Greed is a longstanding human transgression, branded as one of the seven deadly sins. It has been with us since the beginning of time, and it’s not planning to go away anytime soon.

When I say spiritual, I mean just that. Greed is a spirit, much like the wind, you don’t see it, but you recognize its presence and acknowledge its consequences. And like telling the wind which way to blow, it’s my view that similarly, Greed that is immune to legislation. Sure, we can put regulations in place, stack on more and more layers of oversight and control, but Greed will still find a way around the system, and will forever take advantage of those who get in its way. Regulation is a solution, but the problem of Greed will still exist.

When I check in on the Occupy Protesters, I listen for their yearnings, not their demands. Yearning is provoked by the Problem; demands are only a response to the Problem. And if the problem is spiritual, it only makes sense to me that the reaction to it would be equally hard to pin down and quantify. Anger and outrage are understandable. They, too, are spiritual reactions.

I remember reading the parenting books when my kids were toddlers. The consensus among them was never discipline or act out in anger. The emotion may be justified as an initial response to behavior, but unchecked anger will only be interpreted as combative, not constructive. An eye for an eye leaves two people blind.

Greed is a problem and should make us angry, but it needs to lead to a constructive solution. Spiritual matters require spiritual solutions, and there is no better solution than an inspiring one versus a condemning one. Greed can be countered by its antithesis, Generosity. Can you imagine what it would look like if our nation adopted a spirit of bounty in response?

Every great awakening starts somewhere…


glenn said...

Kevin - That is the best analysis I have seen of the occupy movement, definition of "the problem", and, definitely, the best proposed solution. That feeling of being victimized by greed is pervasive these days. Peter Rollins talks about opposing the system by acting independently of it. His example was Mother Teresa who didn’t rail against the cast system in India, yet addressed it positively, effectively, and relationally. You present a beautiful thought. How do we flesh it out?

Anonymous said...

The are the same, one has been around a little longer, have to wait and see how it plays out in the next election.