Every Solution Produces a New Problem: Wisdom of the Ages #writinglife
September 21, 2016
Back in grad school a professor once dropped some old person wisdom on me. He wasn't really all that old, but back then I thought being over 35 was. Ah, the foolishness in youth! Anyway, Dr. Paul Sassenbach was a veteran of the Civil Rights era. Here's what he said, and it has stayed with me all these years - every solution creates a new set of problems. Sometimes we foresee the possible consequences, weigh the pros and cons, and decide to take the risk for whatever reason. Other times the problems are totally unexpected, hit us for a loop. No one is at fault. What started out to be a good idea isn't because technology advances, culture shifts, any number of things changes mean what was done before should stop or be done differently. Two examples come to mind. One huge, one small.
My professor said when they fought for integration, no one foresaw white flight and the devastating effect it would have. Large cities their lost tax base. Housing values dropped, which led to urban blight. The schools not only lost revenue, affecting quality, but became segregated again. These children were once again trapped in inferior schools that were grossly under funded for a very different reason. And Black businesses suffered tremendously, because Black people flocked to patronize those formerly "Whites Only" establishments. Now we're working on solutions to the problems caused by the solution.
Here's a small one that's personal for me. The green revolution is a good thing. I'm an avid recycle fan. My little bin stays full with all the items my local waste department says are right to put in there. More and more products are made from recycled material. Less stuff going into landfills is a great thing, right? Except I'm extremely allergic to the kind of rubber used to make vehicle tires. You'd be surprised at the number of products on sale at the local Walmart, dollar store, etc. made with recycled rubber. Took me a while to figure out why I was reacting. Then I remembered reading news articles about the wonders of everyday products made from, you guessed it, old tires. These things don't have labels that list what they're made of, like garden hoses or artificial plants, or the soles of shoes. So I've developed a new skill, sniffing and examining products for that tire smell. Anything that is black and rubbery is suspect. But a lot of products don't those those obvious clues.
I know people who have a dark view of this fact of life. They're very negative. I call them "Yes, but..." people. No matter how many "pros" thrown at them, how much positive spin you lay out, doesn't matter. They'll nod, listen, and when you stop talking they'll hit you with "Yes, but..." and list all the things that might happen or reasons bad things will happen.
These folks have a habit of not taking any action because you know, what if? Or they're certain things won't get better, possibly even worse. Should we stop dreaming and acting in hope that we can create good change? Not me. Listen to Captain Jack!