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Fixin' Healthcare

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Quest Goes On

All civilizations utilize epic tales to promote values and cultural wisdom. Heroes and heroines are examples to teach about life. Odysseus, Aeneas, and Beowulf were heroes and examples for ancient Greeks, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons. To do better by doing "good" is an ancient concept re-interpreted throughout the ages. Religion and religious philosophy served that purpose for thousands of years. Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, prophets, saints, and philosophers point the way to live. The rise of secular humanism associated with scientific inquiry emphasizes a method to search for verifiable truth as the way to know what is "good".

Where does it start and where does it end? Is there meaning for life that is optimal, ultimate, and final, and upon which everyone must agree? Does it make a difference whether the pathway is love, enlightenment, fulfillment, peace, or verifiable truth? Of course, it must, but some things in life are beyond knowing and must be taken on faith. Even so, there is direction to life that is knowable though the destination is unknown. Traditionally, families, cultures, and community institutions provide the accumulated wisdom and support to guide people in their choice of directions.

Every age contains those who believe the human race is moving in the wrong direction. The basis for their concern, or alarm, takes various forms depending upon the events of the times. Bettering the world, saving souls, spiritual growth, salvation, social justice, personal and sexual morality, peace, health, poverty, race, environment, climate, theological orthodoxy, evolution, abortion, stem cell research, homosexuality, feminism, good for all versus good for the few, lobbyists, national self-destruction, and hope versus doom are a sampling of the list that goes on and on. Every issue is a cause and every cause is a call to arms.

Knowing the past is a reliable way to assess the future. Prophets are good historians and their most dire predictions come when people forget the past. To define, defend, and effectively transmit the hard earned lessons of the past for the benefit of the future is an essential task of families, cultures, and community institutions. But, imparting cultural wisdom is labor intensive and time consuming, and people are distracted and impatient with short attention spans. The failure to learn and understand these lessons of life erodes traditional values and leads to instability of society. Successful societies identify, maintain, and propagate core values that facilitate the capability to analyze, understand, prioritize, and solve problems.

New problems will arise and old ones will recur in varied form. New knowledge will be discovered and new technologies will be developed. Change and challenge are constants and societies must adapt. Successful adaption consists of disciplined response based upon core values and measured experience. History provides examples of unwise and tragic decisions based upon ignorance and lack of understanding. Persecuting groups of people as the cause of Black Death and bleeding to cure disease come to mind. No matter how ridiculous these are in retrospect, the future will render similar judgment on decisions and practices of today.

Many things can cause significant change for society but fall short of transformation. Natural disasters, congressional laws, and Supreme Court decisions are examples. Take your pick from the impact of hurricanes in Florida and New Orleans upon home owners' insurance, the impact of US energy policy upon global distribution of wealth, and the impact of court decisions upon property rights, abortion, and racial integration. Much less common are watershed events that are broadly disruptive and lead to transformation of society. After these events things are not the same and changes continue in a new direction at an accelerated rate. This happens when a large segment of the population has a similar experience over a short span of time that causes a shared alteration of basic mind-set. To accomplish that requires a big event and it is rare.

Among such events none surpasses World War II. Many factors, reasons, and consequences are identified as associated with the changes resulting from WWII but two are pivotal. The United States and its citizens were thrust front and center upon the world stage and the country experienced prosperity on a scale never witnessed before in history. The prosperity is all the more pronounced because it follows a severe economic depression, it expanded to encompass a broad segment of the population, and it is remarkably sustained with only brief pauses over sixty years. The expanding view of the world, growing prosperity, and reshaping of the American culture are closely associated and mutually dependent.

Political and economic systems are but two components of society but in the American culture politics and economics have become strong forces that exert powerful influence upon the flow and direction of life. Together, they establish the agenda, set priorities, allocate resources, reinforce each other, and expand to control adjacent activities and systems. Politics and economics are tools facilitating an expanding view of the world, growing prosperity, and changing culture. The strength and appeal of the American culture is consumerism based upon prosperity and individual freedom of choice. A culture with broad public appeal is more powerful and aggressive than any army.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Quest

Every day, in many ways, people around the world are urged to lead better lives. What that means and how to achieve it vary depending upon who is doing the urging and the interpretation by those being urged. As confusing as the situation appears, people are filled with the desire to lead better lives. But, try hard as they may, life keeps getting in their way. It snows or rains, it is too hot or cold, alarm clocks don't always function, automobiles malfunction, accidents happen, someone doesn't show up at the designated time or place, relatives and friends become ill or grow old or die, they are not feeling well or have no energy or are too tired, there are too many demands or there isn't enough time in the day, and the list goes on.

Modern life is a marvel but it can be quite daunting. Society consists of layer upon layer of human associations and multiple cultures, plus subcultures, existing side by side. Shrimp boat captains, truck drivers, and physicians may pass in close proximity but their daily lives are different. The cracks and crevices of life are filled with obligations, commitments, desires, hopes, anxieties, and fears. Everyone at some time or another is bewildered by the pressures and complexity of life. To seek the simple life might be a reasonable solution or an illusion. One can wonder about the influence upon Henry David Thoreau in his isolation at Walden Pond when he observed that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation (Walden, 1854).

There is more to know about life than any individual can fully comprehend. Clarity and predictability would be comforting but change is inevitable and often unpredictable, confusing, and discouraging. Without sufficient personal experience and detailed knowledge to cope with every situation in life, people rely upon shared values to reach beyond the unknown, the challenges, hardships, disappointments, and losses. People seek understanding, security, love, good health, fulfillment, and meaning. Joy and happiness are difficult to describe but necessary to share and it is best not to suffer sadness alone.

Society organizes people into groups but the life of each person is as unique to them as fingerprints. Everybody has a story but how many others are interested in their story? Moreover, do they think anyone is interested in their story? Even the self-possessed have doubts about their place in the world. Belonging to a group provides common bond and determines much about lifestyle but overstates homogeneity. Groups provide an identity but within groups individuals strive for their own identity. The process determines lifestyle, which is always a work in progress.

The search for answers to the problems of life is constant and many answers are found. Each answer is pertinent in one way or another but they may not be a solution for the problem at hand. Solutions to the complex problems of life are elusive and require understanding of both the problems and the answers. Answers can easily become problems and there may be difficulty distinguishing one from the other. Careful thought and meaningful questions are often in shorter supply than quick answers.

Knowing facts does not assure understanding. Insight and understanding depend upon experience, contemplation, perspective, values, beliefs, and spiritual faith. These aspects of life are shaped by family, culture, community, education, and religion. This is a plane of endeavor that touches upon the meaning of life and depends upon focus, discipline, purpose, and ethical decision-making. There the search for understanding, security, love, good health, fulfillment, meaning, joy, and happiness takes place.

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