As I was reading the first section of the newspaper today, I was reminded why I don’t like to read the newspaper. It was all about problems, describing the problems, reasons for the problems, and what some people were trying to do to help resolve the problems. In other words, it’s really quite depressing.
Or was it really about the problems? When I take a step back and look at what’s being described, those really are the symptoms. Here’s what the articles were about: the problems, how I think they were actually symptoms, and what I think is the real problem.
- Schools taking a stronger stance on bullying – How schools are now being forced to not just have a policy against bullying, but to actually start enforcing the policy and being proactive about training teachers to identify and deter bullying. This really made it sound like the schools not enforcing the policies was the problem. However, I contend that the increase in bullying is actually the symptom. The actual problem is a breakdown in American values. And values are something that is learned at home, not in school. Like Pavlov’s dogs, remove the negative consequence and the behavior will return. Schools taking a stronger stance on bullying only deters the behavior while at school. The root problem is parents not teaching their kids acceptable behavior and instilling them with the values that would make the kid not even think that bullying was an option. In fact talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you the parents are often worse than the kids.
- Wall Street sit-in protesting corporate greed – How what started as a small sit-in against corporate greed on wall street is turning into a multi-week protest that is gaining supporters and sympathizers. While I totally agree with the premise of their protest, we have to realize that corporate greed has an underlying cause: investor greed. And I don’t just mean venture capitalists. The market is so fickle because so many investors are demanding more and more returns on their investments. The stock market used to be about investing back in America, helping to build the economy and there by the country. Now it’s about getting rich quick so that you can retire and not have to work. In other words, it’s about building up me and my retirement account–often without regard to understanding what the companies are having to do to provide those higher returns.
- Congress supporting reduction of tax deductions/exemptions (as long as it wasn’t a item they helped put in the code) – How many congress members are speaking out in support of helping to reduce the national debt by eliminating some of the corporate deductions/exemptions granted to special interest groups/industries; but only if it’s one that doesn’t impact a special interest group in their own state. Like the last two, I think this comes back to a values issue. Definitely a personal values issue on the part of the congressperson in question, corporate values in the case of the special interest, but also us the voters in not holding either one of them accountable for their actions.
Many of us are very fortunate. We grew up in middle class families, where our parents and grandparents worked hard to provide a better life for us. However, in doing so, they may have inadvertently caused a shift in the values structure that was so fundamental to the building of our country. Rather than focusing on the greater needs of the community and impact that our actions have on the bigger picture, we often focus only on ourselves and short term gratification.
It’s a nice luxury to have, but we have to realize that this self-centric focus is having a significant impact to our communities (the school example), our economy (the wall street example), and our nation (the congress example). Until we realign our expectations and our behaviors, we can’t expect these problems to go away. And no amount of policies, regulation, or turnover in Congress is going to fix them. Start with yourself and lead by example.