Engage. You don’t need to be an expert.

Do we talk to other people about what we’re doing? About what they’re doing? Do we ask why we do what we do..buy what we buy, bank who we bank with..eat what we eat..send our kids to the schools that we send them to, fund the wars that kill for goals we support? Do we not only talk, but do we listen to what they’re saying…and even more importantly, think about what they really mean?

Are we trying to be members of a community, or do we see everyone as doing their own thing, a zero sum game, as passengers on a ship out of our control? Or do we see ourselves as part of it, as responsible for it, unafraid of facing the problems of our society?

Why we don’t do these things is addressed by Meslin. He says: “As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.” We must recognize this, because it is the collective that is going to change things. And once we accept this, we must have a conversation.

Politics isn’t a bad word unless you’re using it to win an argument, or give yourself an identity. Politics, in fact, is probably the most important thing to talk about right now. Not partisanship…but politics. There’s only one thing more important, and that’s figuring out that you belong in the conversation because you’re not an island onto yourself. That’s what Obama meant, but couldn’t really express.

We’re not different than anyone else, regardless of what they’re doing out there. The guy between jobs, the CEO, or the small businessperson. We have the opportunity to decide because people believed so much in the idea that we’re all equal, that they were willing to die for a system that could give us the power to decide…and it DID give ALL OF US the power to decide. And we must decide, or else the institutions, corporate and government, they will do it for us. And I think these institutions have gotten too big to handle our needs. It’s up to us to start this conversation.

Now, it’s up to us.

Taking off the blinders requires learning how to ignore

I have trouble sitting down to work sometimes. My focus is on many things, and so it is on nothing. Then I realized how to let go. And it was more than simplifying and prioritizing. It was the realization that I needed to acknowledge and then ignore many things. In order to get stuff done, I needed to ask myself throughout the day, day after day, week after week: “What do you want? What are you doing?”

The other day, I was returning from the bathroom to continue my writing and saw the new handheld vacuum I had purchased recently. I like tools, and this was a bright, shiny new one. Soon, I was unplugging it, having just swept the kitchen. I stopped suddenly and thought, “What am I doing? Why am I not writing?”

Vigilance is key

Neil Gaiman has a great analogy for making tough decisions in life. If your goal is a mountain, make sure your decisions are taking you towards that mountain, not away. The mountaintop is far so it’s ok if it takes you a long time to get there, as long you’re making your way to it.

My experience would make me add this to his analogy, “Make sure you’re not circling that mountain, neither going towards it or away from it.” To this end, I think it’s vastly important to reiterate to ourselves, “What do I want? What am I doing?”

The day I started ignoring things was ironically the day I took the blinders off. I looked up from the solid foundation I was laying and noticed all the options that were open to me, from professional to social, and then I decided to stop and ask, “What do I want?” It is overwhelming, but the possibilities appear around you, and it is the first step towards accomplishing what you want.

The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ isn’t true. We’re not animals. To achieve bliss we must be conscious of our surroundings and taking a stand and making choices and adapting. And this requires taking the blinders off and asking ourselves repeatedly, “What am I doing? What do I want?”

How to fix a problem 101: Address the cause

The city decided to start providing water to the runners at all the charity runs. It was for a good cause, and the runners needed the water, and it would be a good gesture of support to the community. So the city contracted a company to provide the water and it went well for the first year, but the next year the company raised their prices, just a little. They said they were switching over all the water to bottled water, which the runners had been preferring. The city agreed, and another brilliant year of charity runs went by. At the end of the year, the company again raised their prices, indicating that they were upgrading to higher quality water. The city again agreed and another year of runs was soon completed. At the end of that year, the company said they had found a great response to the few water misters they had installed that year, so they were increasing the prices again. The city wanted to keep the runners happy and so agreed to the price increase again. And so it went, year after year – the runners were getting water, energy gel packs, sunblock, sunglasses – until the city decided to add a small fee to the entrance price of all the races, so all the runners could chip in for the benefits that were offered.

After a few years, the company’s prices kept increasing, and the fees kept increasing, and the runners reacted: Some runners didn’t care. They didn’t think about it too much. Others thought it was reasonable, since everything that was offered was good for them. Others were irate that they were being forced to pay for things they didn’t use much, or at all.

If you were the city, would you continue accepting the increased costs and raising your fees? Is there anything else you would do? Got your idea? Great. Now let me change a few things in the story.

Say instead of water and sunblock, it was health care. And say the company was an insurance company. And instead of the city, it was the federal government. And let’s call the fee a tax.

We need water. Everyone should have water.

And we need health care. But do we need bottled water and energy gel? Do we need the number of MRIs, CTs, and surgical treatments that are provided every year in this country? Studies have found many of them unnecessary, so many, in fact, that it is one of the main drivers of our relentlessly increasing cost of health care. The other factors? Administrative costs of working with different insurance companies.
And the third factor: People not following their doctors’ orders.

So, who gets the blame? People for wanting better stuff? The city or the company for wanting to give the people what they want? Everyone is responsible, which means no one should be blaming anyone. Pointing fingers at selfish insurance companies or rich doctors or people who choose to be unhealthy does nothing except deny each of us our responsibility.

Would you do what the current government is doing and force a water tax on everyone, regardless of their responsible use of the water?

Would you continue to feed the beast of the health care system as costs increase year after year after year?

Or would you try to bring down the cost of the product by addressing why we’re using water misters when maybe what we need more of is education and a reusable plastic bottle we can fill from the tap?