I teach a very bright young lady who recently participated in her first debate competition. She was describing how difficult it was to argue both for and against her topic which happened to be capital punishment. She noted how interesting it was to be forced by the rules of debate to be compelled to develop persuasive arguments for opposing sides. It made her realize that there is generally no one definitive way of dealing with the problems we face. Such would be true of virtually any societal challenge that we humans face, and yet we have a tendency to divide ourselves into groups that cling to unbending allegiance to simplistic solutions for almost everything.
Crime is a huge topic these days. Most of the time we don’t really analyze the landscape of criminal activity to honestly determine who is committing illegal activities, where those things are taking place and what issues in the environment might be leading to an uptick in criminal enterprises. In other words, we just react and then argue over whether we need to harden our stance on punishments or make better attempts to better understand what is creating the behaviors that lead to misdeeds. The art of debate tells us that maybe there is actually a hybrid of ideas that will work more effectively than siding with one philosophy over another.
Such is true of virtually any problem that we might want to solve, but in our hardheadedness we all too often want a quick fix that aligns with our personal feelings rather than with the facts. It takes time, effort and often money to understand what is actually happening when things appear to be going awry. The best solutions to challenges come from diverse teams of people who are willing to genuinely work together rather than pushing their ideas without compromise. Any group that is unable to get past their differences will generally fail.
In both work and social situations I have learned over and over again how powerful it can be to combine the best of diverse beliefs. Even something as seemingly simple as planning a trip with friends or family can become either a joy or a nightmare depending on how well the people involved consider alternative thinking. Often the amalgam of ideas creates the best final product, but such a process requires everyone to be able to be able to speak and discuss freely and with respect.
My school was once faced with low student scores on standardized tests. We knew that we had to change something or expect the same disappointing outcomes over and over again. We spent many days, countless hours, analyzing and categorizing the testing data from every student as well as every teacher. We learned exactly where the problem areas were. Then we went back through data from previous years to determine when the difficulties seemed to begin. Our process was tedious, but incredibly rewarding. We adjusted our teaching to work on our exact needs. We shared best practices and supported each other. There was no competition. We were a team and our efforts yielded incredible results. Soon we were even coaching other schools in the methods for improving teacher and student learning.
Unrelenting divisions between people kills systems. Anyone who has ever played in a group sport understands the power of teamwork. A squad of competing individuals does not win. Movies and real life demonstrate this important reality over and over again. Ted Lasso did not know much about soccer, but he had the heart of a great coach. He brought his team together in a kind of brotherhood first, then worked on winning games. When Ford Motor Company created a team spirit instead of isolating each process of building cars, they suddenly began producing better quality vehicles.
Our governmental systems would do well to set aside political differences and come together to work as a team intent on actually solving problems rather than constantly running for office and plotting to be powerful. Too much time is wasted on ideological arguments rather than honest attempts to consider the best processes for meeting our very real challenges. Right now our lawmakers at every level have made a game of competing for the limelight and pushing their views on everyone else. They are more about preventing solutions than finding them. To a very large extent most of our governing bodies are now broken because the elections and allegiances to limited bases of people are more important than actually doing something significant for all of the people. Even our courts are more likely to be staffed with like minded political judges than with fair, just, and impartial mediators.
So often my young students appear to understand what must be done in the world more clearly than the adults. They have an eager willingness to consider new ideas. They enjoy learning about issues that have been unknown to them. They delight in the belief that every notion has both pros and cons. They are open minded and excited about working together. Somehow far too many of the grownups have lost that capacity to appreciate diversity in thinking. They quibble and quarrel and get nothing done. It’s a sad state of affairs, and yet here we are.