It is extremely easy to purvey the world in which we live in and point out all of the areas that are problematic. It is much more difficult to provide viable solutions to the things that ail us, and one small word plays a massive role in why it is that we do not provide solutions to the obvious problems that have plagued us for eons:
Consensus. If we can ever come to consensus about the problems we are faced with as a culture, we can then unleash our inexhaustible creativity to find new, dynamic solutions to age-old problems. However, we do not, and here is why:
We simply cannot put aside our differences in belief between one another to come to a place where we agree to disagree on the minor details, all the while pushing forward to complete the task of addressing and solving the large-scale problems that, if we are honest with ourselves and one another, know for a fact exist.
To take this idea a step further, let us narrow the focus to just the United States. In this country, according to the 2012 census, 46.5 million people were living at or below the poverty level. That is fifteen percent of the populace. When pressed, most people would agree that poverty is a problem in this country, and one that needs to be discussed, assessed, and addressed. However, it is at this point that any form of discourse becomes derailed, and the focal point of finding and creating solutions gets lost amid our inability to achieve consensus as to what to do about the problem.
Here is how it happens: some people will admit that poverty is indeed a problem, and it is best addressed by turning it over to the hands of our elected officials. They believe that problems as large-scale as this should be solved by people who were put in a position to tackle issues as part of their job description. Other people will respond to this suggested solution by saying that the government is already far too large, that our elected officials have spent years addressing this issue, and we still do not have a solution; therefore, we must look at the root cause of poverty, and address why it even exists in the first place. One solution (viable or not) is suggested, and the response changes the focus from the viability of the suggestion to a completely different discussion. Therefore, to continue the discussion, group (or individual) “A” will state that the problem is systemic, cultural, and generational, and something needs to be done to fix the inequalities that currently exist. Group (or individual) “B” replies that it is not the system, it is the people who are the root of the problem, and everyone in this country has the opportunity to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make a better life for themselves. Those interactions shift the focus to the viability of the “American Dream”, and to whether or not such a thing ever existed, and if it did, whether or not it still exists today. This shifting of the discussion continues on ad infinitum, all the while forgetting the original assertion that poverty is problematic and needs to be discussed, assessed, and addressed.
Now, all of the hypothetical responses will have to be dealt with at some point of the discussion, as each assertion contains defensible truths. Our elected officials should indeed be seeking out how to best “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessing of our liberty to ourselves and our posterity” as part of the oath they took. The case can also be made that said elected officials have been attempting to do this for generations, and their solutions have not been effective. The flaws that are inherent in the system will need to be addressed, as will the notion of whether or not the ideology behind the concept of the “American Dream” is still (or ever was) a reality for all the people who inhabit this country. These are real concepts, defendable assertions, and in need of dialogue. However, they miss the original need of achieving consensus in our general agreement that poverty is not good and must be solved.
In any creative endeavor, it is extremely rare that a finished idea comes fully formed out of the ether. There are rare instances of this happening (such as a musician who states that “the song just came out of nowhere” or the artist who claims “the painting came to me in a dream”), but the majority of creative endeavors needs an initial phase: brainstorming. One of the concepts I teach my students is that in the brainstorming session, there is no such thing as a “bad idea”. No idea can be too fantastic, too ridiculous, too silly, too radical, or too far-fetched. Every idea gets written down in the process, and after all ideas have been exhausted, then it becomes time to begin the decision-making process of what potentially is a solid idea and what ideas can be discarded, amended, incorporated, tweaked, or simply cast aside. The importance of granting credence to any and every idea while brainstorming is key to coming up with creative, innovative, and ultimately positive solutions to whatever the problem (be it the creation of a work of art or the solution to a major social ill) happens to be, and I am convinced that we have yet to apply this approach to the things that are wrong with our society and culture.
But before we can creatively attempt to solve problems, we must come to consensus, a general agreement, that the problems indeed exist in the first place. From there, we can move forward collectively in an attempt to make this world a better place for all of humanity.
Now, it is easy to be cynical about the notion of collectively creating major change in the world. As history indicates, paradigm shifts are slow-moving events that take years, sometimes generations to occur, and are usually met with extreme resistance (think the American Revolution or the Civil Rights movement). Change is difficult, which is why it happens so infrequently. Major change requires dialogue, discourse, education, and the ability to be open-minded to new ideas, even at the expense of discarding long-held ideologies and beliefs if they stand in the way of positive outcomes for the whole. It requires much.
But it is possible. We now live in a world that is full of magnificent technological gifts that no other generation has ever had. If we combine those gifts with our endless creativity and ingenuity, we have the potential to re-shape the world into a place where we agree to come to a consensus regarding what our most pressing problems are, and then address them with creative ideas that have yet to be applied.
Why should we believe that there are new ideas to combat old social dilemmas? Well, there are a few reasons. One, the problems still exist, which means that we have yet to come up with the proper solutions for them, and that means that the answer is still out there, waiting to be imagined. Two, we have tried a variety of approaches to solving social problems, but have generally stayed within the “traditional” parameters (waiting for elected officials to do it, throw money and programs at the problem, et al) but have yet to apply creative approaches to problem solving. If our creativity can produce the mind-blowing technologies that we have available to us today, imagine what we could conceive if we applied that same creativity and “what if?” approach to social issues. The potential results are worth our collective efforts. Three, our current world of social media allows us to connect in ways never before seen in human history; we just need to start using these outlets for more than mere entertainment.
Think of YouTube: Long before it was a place where people uploaded the works of other people for the world to see, it was originally designed to be a platform for putting out the works of individuals who chose to put their creations out into the ether that is the internet. When it debuted, YouTube carried the tagline, “Broadcast Yourself”, and that is what people who engaged with the site did. This use of such a powerful tool continues to grow today, and it does so in a way that exemplifies people helping each other out.
Example: Recently, my air conditioning in my home stopped working (which is not a “problem”, but merely an inconvenience). Anyone who has been in such a situation knows that repair of heating/air conditioning units comes with a large price tag. However, growing up as a son of a General Contractor and having spent my high school and college summers working for the family company, I tend to be quite handy around the house. Not a professional, mind you, but I can set tile, lay hardwood floors, fix plumbing problems, lay outdoor sprinkler systems, and other jobs that have allowed me to fix things in the home without the need to seek out a professional to do them.
But not air conditioning.
Because it went out on a relatively cool weekend, I did not need to schedule a technician to come out until after the weekend. In my spare time, I researched what potentially could be wrong with the system and how those problems could be addressed.
I found “how to” videos, uploaded by people who ran the gamut from self-described laypeople to folks who were professionals, and there were more than I could possibly watch, even if given the time. The videos were detailed, full of pertinent information, and extremely instruction about what and what not to do. It was an amazing treasure trove of collective thought and wisdom, complete with many of the people who originally uploaded the video answering questions posed to them in the comments section. What I learned is that one of the potential problems is a worn out capacitor, and that it was a relatively easy and inexpensive fix.
I kept my appointment with the technician, and his diagnostic revealed that I did indeed have a worn out capacitor. He wrote up an estimate for repair, which totaled nearly seven hundred dollars. I thanked him for his time, paid him for the diagnostic, and proceeded to an electric supply store to buy a replacement capacitor. Armed with my YouTube video and pictures of my old connection, I opened the panel, de-charged and removed the old capacitor (which the technician had put back in place), and replaced it with a new one. Total time (including driving to the supply store): one and a half hours. Total cost: $18.30. That is not a typo. I fixed the problem for less than twenty dollars, thanks to an unknown individual who chose to share their know-how and expertise because they wanted to help someone else out.
Imagine, for a moment, if we could apply our creativity, our know-how, our immense amount of collective knowledge to solving the problems of social injustice, using these skills because we want to enact positive change. It could change the world.
I do not have all of the answers, and neither do you. But together, collectively, information could be exchanged, ideas thrown about, and possible solutions arrived at when all is said and done.
But first, we must come to consensus that there are indeed issues that are wrong in the world. If we can do that, we can then proceed applying our indefatigable collective creativity through our amazing technology as the means to an end of injustices that have plagued us for far too long.
To quote a decades old song: “What a beautiful world this will be…”