Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 11, 2009

Common Themes Underlie Solutions
The headlines call our attention to so many issues that seem overwhelming. $41 billion dollars spent on obesity in California. Water is at a crisis point with solutions blocked by single interest groups. The budget is held hostage by ideology and single interest groups. The status quo is blocking innovations in health care, the justice system and education.

The Mental Health Cluster of the HII, led by Dr. Alan Pierrot, begins with a paraphrase of Pogo, "We have met the solution and it is us." There are three aspects to this statement--the aggregate impact of individual choices, steward leadership of the whole and restoration of an American tradition--barn raising. Applied to obesity, this suggests we all have a personal responsibility for our health. Unless individuals choose healthy lifestyles, our medical system will collapse and the costs will continue to hamper every sector. At the leadership level this could mean a farm bill that supports farmers who grow specialty crops rather than commodities. It could mean that food processors who use toxic, addictive and metabolism slowing chemicals would pay an added cost in recognition of the health implications. It could mean that communities insure that every neighborhood is safe, has access to healthy food, and schools embed knowledge about healthy lifestyles and opportunities to practice healthy habits into curriculum. It could mean that teachers, administrators and staff all commit to being role models for healthy lifestyles as what we do is often the most potent teacher.

The themes of personal responsibility, steward leadership and barn raising can be applied to other issues. While many of our founders were formally educated, others educated themselves. A commitment to life long learning was common. Yet, many seem to believe the schools are responsible for education rather than individuals. Of course there is a both/and aspect. However, as a friend mentioned to me, "In Brazil our kids go to school under trees and they are passionate about learning. In America, you worry about whether or not the buildings violate codes." Rather than steward leaders aimed at transforming education to meet the realities of this century, single interest stakeholders block needed reforms and argue over details.
Rather than barn raising, where everyone steps up to accomplish the essential task of educating our children, too often parents and the community expect the schools to not just educate, but raise children, too.

Blame is easy, especially when the challenges seem so overwhelming. However, the first step out of blame is personal responsibility. Unless you are stepping up to do your part as an individual, steward and barn raiser, you are the problem. Being a citizen is a verb, not a spectator sport. Typically, those with the harshest criticisms are the ones who think someone ought to do something but don't take action themselves.

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