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Kevin Roseland, Moorhead, Published April 24 2013

Letter: Only ‘we’ can make difference

Almost daily, we are confronted with information described as a crisis: a crisis in education, crisis in government budgeting, racial inequity and prejudice, faith, and so forth. This consistent bombardment lends itself to a mindset that creates physiological, neurological, behavioral and psychological reactions. We change behavior and expectations to believe we are individually powerless to have a lasting effect on the creation of solutions to real problems.

Many years ago, during my undergraduate training, I read of an experiment that described placing a dog in a divided cage. The cage had a wire floor that was wired for low voltage. When a buzzer sounded, a charge was delivered to one side of the floor. The dog was shocked. Over a short period of time, the dog learned to hop the divider to the other side of the cage to escape the shock. The experimenters changed the rules; when the dog jumped the divider, the other side of the cage also delivered the shock. The dog learned there was no escape, and ultimately, when the buzzer sounded, the dog merely lay down, took the shock and didn’t even try to escape. This result was called “learned helplessness.”

Humans have become conditioned much as that dog. Evidence is in the anger expressed in our dialogues (personal and social media); the divisiveness of leadership, where it is more popular to point fingers and ratchet up rhetoric blaming the “others,” as opposed to working to find solutions that cannot really be summed up in “black and white” options.

Many people have decided to ignore problems and act as if the only needs worth satisfying are their own. Others, it would appear, have decided that their solutions are the only ones worth considering, and thus make every effort to enforce their own value system upon entire groups, regardless of whether this imposition denies freedoms for many who might have come to different but equally workable conclusions. One size does not fit all. Some have stopped caring at all.

The solution, as I see it, is to not necessarily stop trying to find global solutions, but to change the focus back to where we, as individuals, can have impact. The nature of the world demands a certain level of government. This has been known from early times. Society must have rules, customs, priorities, etc. History also demonstrates these systems change over time, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Regardless, it is the participation of individuals that has the greatest impact on how successful we will be in the long run.

What can we do? This is the easy part, but may not have the immediate results we have been conditioned to expect. We may not know our impact until much later (as opposed to the movie scripts that tell us the results will be apparent within 90 minutes). We can spend time with our kids while they do their homework. Not only will we assure they learn, but we also have one more way to build constructive relationships with them. We can modify our absolute competitiveness in business transactions. We may see some initial reduction in profit, but our business relationships will begin to establish expectations and a reputation for fairness and honesty. In the long term, this is likely to improve profit.

The list is endless. The point is that crisis mode is something we create by viewing issues uncritically, without believing we are part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. We cannot escape media portrayals of crises. Crisis is a part of a marketing strategy. It sells! What we can do is become involved on a personal level with our community, and stop spending so much time winding ourselves up with extreme and exclusive points of view that generalize to the level where it becomes only us against them. To my way of thinking, it is always “we” who make the real difference.