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Fixin' Healthcare

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Human Behavior and Public Policy

People are not comfortable with confusion and uncertain outcomes. They seek clarity and meaning. The need for clarity and meaning takes people on many and varied journeys throughout life. Compare and contrast the quest and pathways of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”, 1957) with those of Forrest Gump (Winston Groom, “Forrest Gump”, 1986). Or, consider the quests and pathways of Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa. Professor Michael Heller is a Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist, and philosopher who seeks meaning at the boundary of science, philosophy, and religion, especially where these boundaries are in juxtaposition. Professor Heller believes “science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence.” (Brenda Goodman, New York Times, March 13, 2008) Regardless of the differences in the quests and pathways through life, the need for meaning gives fuel to the restless spirit and accounts for human momentum even without certainty as to the destination or outcome.


Human behavior is shaped and directed by the meaning each person finds in life and the values derived from that meaning. The perspective that human behavior determines the status of life on earth is slowly dawning upon society. Certainly, the most significant impact upon health, the environment, and the climate is human behavior. Public policy must be more effective in addressing human behavior to be of benefit for better health, cleaner environment, and safer climate. People must understand public policy and it must be within their capability to comply. But, the most important factor for compliance with public policy is compatibility with the values and belief systems of society. Successful public policy accommodates the span from higher sense of purpose and meaning to self-interest without transgressing the values and belief systems of individuals and the whole of society. If it was easy, public policy would be more successful.

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