Back in the days when I regularly read newspapers, I always made a point of checking out the editorial pages. I didn’t bother to read the op-ed pieces written by the editors, because once I knew the editorial slant of the newspaper, I also knew exactly what its editors were going to write about any particular issue. No, what I liked to read were the letters to the editor, because those were often written by ordinary people who felt strongly enough about a particular issue to write to the newspaper in the hopes of having their views shared with the community at large. Some of the letters were insightful, some were angry, and few were funny (sometimes unintentionally). But the ones that stood out the most were the ones that, in all sincerity, outlined a few simple steps that the writer was just sure would fix all of our society’s problems.
It never seemed to occur to the people who wrote those letters that if the solution to the complex and long-standing problems we face were really that simple, chances are that someone else would have thought of them by now.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why someone would want to believe that if we just took a few simple steps, we really could end all wars, stamp out poverty, erase income inequity, cure cancer, banish racism, etc., and in general instantly transform the world into the kind of happy, healthy and peaceful place we all want it to be. I understand it, but I just don’t happen to share that belief. We may not want to admit it, but most of the problems we are facing today have been around for a long time, and I just don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.
Of course there are many things we can and should do to address the many challenging issues we face, both in our nation and in the world at large. Throwing our hands up in despair doesn’t help anything, and actually makes things much, much worse. But I do believe that we need to be honest, both with ourselves and with each other, and acknowledge that complex problems usually require complex and sometimes difficult solutions. And we humans are rarely inclined to show the kind of patience, hard-work, tolerance and maturity that are needed to do the job.
I think it is natural for us to seek simple solutions, especially in a world that often seems so confusing and sometimes downright dangerous. Maybe the answer is to quit trying to impose our simple solutions on other people. Maybe, rather than insisting on telling other people what they should be believing and what they should be doing, we need to focus on implementing our simple solutions in our own lives. Wasn’t it Mahatma Gandhi who said, “be the change you wish to see in the world?” And really, it doesn’t get much more simple than that.