Writing this column is easy. I don’t mean that I don’t work at it. I do. I read for hours every day. I seek information about all kinds of topics from many sources. I try to understand all points of view. It is not possible to agree with everyone, but trying to see the world from others’ points of view helps one understand one’s own beliefs. I write and rewrite and rewrite again. I study writing itself in an attempt be a better writer.
Putting my opinions on the pages of a local paper is harder than writing for a publication read by people who don’t know me. There is no anonymity in writing for the Cavalier County Republican. Many readers have known me since I was a child. Some knew my parents. It is possible, although unlikely, that someone might even remember my grandparents. Those who read my column are the people I meet in the grocery store or sit next to in church on Sunday morning. They are my friends, my neighbors and people with whom I regularly do business. I was not raised to call attention to myself or to think myself better than others. Publishing what I think about what happens in the world often makes me feel exposed and vulnerable.
Still writing this is easy. It isn’t hard to look around and find problems. There are hungry people looking for help. Unemployment in most of the country is still high in spite of improvements in the job market. One in five children live in poverty. Disasters strike around the world with increasing frequency. War and poverty continue to make people flee their homes. Finding something about which to opine is not a problem. Pointing out the shortcomings of our political system and government is always easy.
Opinion pages don’t require solutions to the problems that face us. Writing an opinion is easy. Finding and explaining solutions are much harder work. Proposing the answer to problems requires not only understanding the problem, but being able to envision something different. Solutions also require us to anticipate the unexpected. What are the unintended consequences to our proposed change? Solutions require asking, “Then what?” and asking it over and over again. Solutions require more than a superficial understanding of an issue. How do systems work? How will changing one part affect everything else? What seems simple on the surface often is far more complex when you scrape away the obvious.
Simply making a proposal for doing something new doesn’t accomplish much. Answers to problems need to be implemented. This is the really hard work. There are always obstacles and barriers to change. Fixing one thing often creates a new problem somewhere else. A friend of mine once summed up our reaction to how we view a problem and it’s solutions. He said, “It all depends on whose ox is being gored.” Our reaction depends on how our own well-being and position will be affected. The problem you know is often less frightening than the solution you don’t understand. Almost easier than writing about problems is the tendency to avoid the uncomfortable by avoiding change, to decide there is no affordable solution and to hold to the status quo or even to move backwards.
Solutions require taking risks, stepping outside of the confines of where we are comfortable. There will always be a critic somewhere writing an opinion column who will point out the plan’s failures. Sometimes those critics are right. Trying something new may fail. Failure is a risk innovators are not afraid to take. There will always be something that is missed along the way. Mistakes will be made in calculations and implementation will be carried out by flawed human beings. There will inevitably be people who liked things the way they were and who will fight tooth and nail to keep the things they hold dear regardless of the cost. Doing nothing also has a cost.
Opinions without action are meaningless. They’re easy to write and much harder to turn into a plan. Even trickier is actually making change happen. I admire the leaders around us who put themselves in the line of fire from opinion columnists. I admire those who find solutions and then take the risks needed to implement them.
Copyright © 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains