Mindsets

Individuals, societies and nations all have existing mindsets that need to be shaken up, thrown out the window and then allowed back in through the front door in the form of new mindsets.  To me, that is the definition of progress.  Let me explain.

With the savage destruction in Haiti, one is forced to ask “Why?’.  Not the why of having such a terrible natural disaster hit there, for that can happen anywhere.  Rather, the “why” applies to the devastation that existed in Haiti before this tragedy.  The world is appalled at the current physical and human misery in Haiti, but where was the world before this disaster struck?  Haiti had no infrastructure, either structural or social, not to mention a functioning government, before the earthquake hit.

The enigma I am faced with is why such apparent outrage now and not before, when the state of existence in Haiti was so antithetical to living a productive, healthy life.  It has to do with mindsets, and the fatigue of poverty, along with the accompanying feeling of hopelessness and helplessness to rectify the situation, throughout the world.  Poverty never goes away and, let’s face it, it is a horrible thing to witness.  So we steel ourselves, by our emotional and financial outpouring in response to a specific horrific event but at the same time, avoiding the reality of poverty and its destructive effects.

Our world is diverse in its political ideologies, types of governments and religious beliefs.  Poverty exists in no one type of social, economic and legal framework.  Is wealth re-distribution the simple answer?  Probably just part of it.  It is the chicken-and-the-egg puzzle all over again: which came first?  Corrupt, self-serving governments or the poverty that they seem to ignore?  How come the leaders of impoverished nations never live in those same deplorable conditions as do their citizens?

Poverty is a complicated, global  manifestation of political beliefs, geography and natural resources, education, economic viability and human caring.  I am certainly not going to solve this problem here.  My one aim is to detail  the overwhelming evidence that poverty is insidious and is the culprit for most of what ails this planet.  It is the same old story: if we can identify and acknowledge the problem, the solution may arise a bit more easier.

A few months ago, I cited a PBS series entitled “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?”.  I was mesmerized by this straight-forward, four-part documentary of how poverty is indeed the underlying cause of inequality in health care in this country.  And the expected corollary of that premise is that if poverty causes such disparity in the levels of health care, certainly poverty also brings with it inequality in many other aspects of our lives.  Take the time to rent this program, or view it on line, as it is a stunning eye-opener:

http://www.pbs.org/unnaturalcauses/about_the_series.htm

This week in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote an Op-Ed article on poverty being the ultimate enemy in Haiti, not necessarily the earthquake.  His points are well-taken:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15brooks.html?scp=2&sq=brooks&st=cse

The true disaster of Haiti is the human suffering and need that was apparent before the natural disaster.  For richer countries to allocate aid to the poorer countries is not the answer.  Even Bill and Melinda Gates, through their charitable foundation, have admitted that to throw tons of money at a problem such as malaria, will not erase the disease.  The solution is much more complicated and multi-faceted.  The human race needs a mindset alteration in how best to alleviate the world’s poverty.

Likewise, in our nation, we celebrate President Obama’s first anniversary of assuming that office.  This year has also been cause to alter my mindset.  Has he delivered on his promises?  Were his promises realistic in the first place?  President Obama has made great strides for America.  He has salvaged our international reputation to a large degree, appointed a well-educated, experienced person to the the Supreme Court, stemmed a total collapse of our economy and financial institutions (although some would say perhaps it would have been better to allow those enterprises to fall off the face of the earth), and above all, continued to set an example for disciplined and measured personal and professional behavior.

In my previous posts, I have often referred to Barack Obama as “strict”.  I now believe that my inexact words really meant his conservatism .  Yes, you heard me correctly, and that is the mindset change that I have undergone during the last year.  The sector of our population that probably is most dissatisfied with the President’s first year is the left.  Not the right wingers —- but instead, the left-leaning liberals.  They feel betrayed by his campaign promises, sincerely but nonetheless rather naively made, that he will put Washington, D.C. back on the straight and narrow again.   Just like the world’s deep-seated poverty, this ingrained abuse by our elected officials is just as destructive to real progress.

I do think that President Obama has undergone a reality check this year which has altered his mindset.  He no longer preaches his intention to change the structure of Washington because he has seen firsthand that it is practically an impossible task.  Instead, he has recognized that the only antidote is to work from the inside out, work within that system, to try to affect change.  It is a sad and dispiriting revelation for any American to concede this fact.  Nevertheless, that is our reality.

Mindset changes are tough calls, often implying defeat because the process carries with it so much compromise.  Such is the state of our health care reform proposed legislation.  If Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts Senate seat tomorrow over the Democrat Coakley, there is a good chance that passage of the the reform will be stopped dead in its tracks.  Yes, there are certain alternative paths Congress can take to get the reform through.  However, I will not be so devastated if this reform falls by the wayside.  This new mindset, of accepting a general framework of what we can get done now and then, at some later date, refine the legislation, does not sit well with me.  Basically, the new bill offers insurance to some uninsured 30 million, but does so mainly by expanding the Medicaid roles.  Regarding the supposedly history-making provisions of no more pre-existing conditions or cancellation of policies due to actual illnesses, I still have not seen the appropriate checks and balances necessary to ensure those provisions.  Also, this bill does not address the hugely increasing costs of health coverage.  Further, with the insurance companies facing no public competition, they are still the rulers of the health care universe.  There is no new mindset associated with the proposed health care reform bill.  This is my major objection to accepting it, even though I admit that the initial framework would be a good starting place.  Shoot: any place would be a good starting point for reform of our health system.

Mindsets are like promises: they are made to be broken, whether we like it or not.  In Haiti, should the citizens accept immediate aid without the world’s promise of a larger scale dedication to helping that country?  Should poor Americans accept the only health care available to them, often only the immediate, minimalist efforts of Medicaid, or strive for equality despite their poverty?  Should President Obama and we Americans accept the advances made this year or claim defeat and surrender because often the results were not what was specifically promised?  Your answer is probably as puzzled and muddled as is mine.

A change in mindset can be mind-boggling, no?

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