It’s Time to Work the Problem

My son and I were driving yesterday when the guy behind the wheel of a big tank of an SUV jumped his right turn and dangerously cut in front of us. Had I not been paying attention, we would have certainly crashed. My son disapprovingly noted that the driver was smoking, too. (That may sound judgmental, but since my dad—the person my son was named after—died from lung cancer long before he ever got to meet his namesake, I’m pretty sure we get to be.)

Within a few more seconds, the driver threw a wrapper out of the window, hitting another “jerk button” for us. After he weaved one too many times in front of us, I decided to pass him. No surprise, he was eating an ice cream bar with one hand and smoking with the other. No third hand for the wheel, I guess.

It was very easy in that moment to not like him very much at all.

I thought to myself, what would I say to him if I could? I mean, how could I have a conversation with a person with so little regard for those around him (dangerous driving, littering, carelessness, smoking–all with kids in the car) and agree with him on anything?

Doesn’t it feel like that’s the way the “sides” of our country are looking at one another these days? Staunch, righteous dichotomy is rampant. Clearly, I’m not immune.

Living in Illinois (aka the Land of Lincoln Who’d Be Weeping if He Could See the Absurdity of Both State and National Government), I’ve seen the ridiculousness of our state politicians as they refuse to work together. For the first time in three years, they finally passed a budget–and raised our taxes by 32%. Ouch. But at least they finally (painfully) did something to keep us afloat.

I can’t help but think about one of my favorite movie scenes. It’s in Apollo 13, where they need to fix the C02 levels before the astronauts suffocate:

 

 

Here’s our big problem.
We must solve it.
Our answer can only come from these resources.
We need to work together.

And…as we know, they do indeed come through.

We in the US, have a big problem, too. We, too, desperately need to solve it. And our resources are far more plentiful than what’s on Apollo 13.

But will we come through? It sure doesn’t feel that way.

I think that before any real hope can be fostered, we have to change the way we are collectively approaching our problems.

If we stay focused on what and who we are against, I believe we’ll get nowhere. But if we say what we are for—in broader societal terms—maybe we’ll be better able to come to the table and work on solving our problems.

Instead of treating the “other side” like they stink as much as fresh poop smeared on a frightened skunk, what if we came to the table with statements like “I’m for making sure all people have solid health care.” Or “I believe we need to work to make our cities safer.” When a conversation starts out that way, it’s hard to imagine the “opposition” coming back with “I think some people deserve better care than others” or “I think our cities are safe enough.” And then maybe…just maybe…we can work the problem. So much depends on who is included as “we” and “our” in a person’s perspective, though, and that, sadly, is a critical stumbling block that I have no idea how to get over.

Trust me, I don’t think this is a magical solution. But we’re in a deep hole here, and to me, it seems our only way out is to strive to understand that—if we don’t work together—the astronauts will die. If we don’t come to the table ready to roll up our sleeves, stay up all night, understand our resources, talk through disagreements, and work the problem…the end result is tragedy. Truly.

Sadly, after watching our politicians—and so many, many citizens—be more intent on defeating the other side than working toward the common good, I fear that kind of team work is a thing of the past.

Or is it?

Another favorite line of mine from Apollo 13 comes from Gene Kranz (Ed Harris)…

 

 

Will we let hatred, closemindedness, and contempt lead us to our biggest failures as a country?

Or will we come to the table to work the problem together–and achieve our finest hour? It’s up to us to persist…and make it so.

 

All photos are my own or used with permission.
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