The Great Placebo (talk is cheap)

Some people are blessed with a multitude of friends. They have friends from school, friends from the club, and friends from the grocery store. Others have acquaintances but only a few close friends. I fall into the latter group. It would not take all the fingers on one hand to count friendships that have intimate value and last a lifetime. One of the best of this small band of friends is Tom. Tom lives in Cleveland and holds the dubious distinction of probably being my best friend. We have spent long days and nights discussing art, politics, religion, philosophy, science, and fishing while our spouses attend to the important things of life. After a visit with my friend, I have a fulfillment and sense of accomplishment like closing a suitcase after packing the extra pair of pants and the sweater you knew just would not fit. Tom and I can discuss anything but we actually do not do anything. Our visits work like a placebo. They make me feel better but actually do not result in any action other then a desire, on my part, to do it again.


The placebo effect is an easy trap to fall into. Discussing complex problems is hard and identifying potential solutions even harder. Though the challenge of civil dialogue is daunting it remains much easier than actually doing something to effect change. At times, my wife allows me to think I have won an argument but in reality, if nothing changes nobody wins. In my head things are better but until a change happens everything stays the same. There is ample evidence of organizations, governments, social groups, and ideologies that are caught by the placebo of process and ultimately lose sight of actual implementation. It can happen in any group even those concerned with effecting change and doing the right thing. It is understandable that identifying the right thing, sorting through the competing rights, opinions, and positions takes time, study, and critical thinking. However, finding the “best” solution may be the companion of complacency and the enemy of action.


The world talks about resources allocation yet shortages are more evident in some socio-economic populations than in others. Narratives built around “them and us” still dominate public discourse. Dialogues of compassion are relegated to the margins and are vilified as being unrealistic based on some esoteric arguments that attempts at justice. It detracts from some overabundance deemed to be untouchable.


Innocence of courteous intentions (Rafal Olbinski)


Global awareness of symptoms emblematic of dysfunctional systems have been acknowledged for generations. Every 10 seconds a child dies of hunger. Nine million people died every year from hunger related issues, 60% of them are women and girls. Though there have been dramatic decreases in poverty in the past decades social and economic disparities have soared. Economic inequity has become more evident and more problematic. In March of this year Forbes reported 2,095 billionaires while 736 million people live on less than $1.90 per day (2015). The impact of health inequity persists within systems that alienate disadvantaged population and socio-economic groups, unequal health care access due to geography, affordability, or ideologies. Accessibility to safe water by 785 million and the lack of improved sanitation by 2 billion people creates a cascading plethora for problems driving inequities downward spiral.


The discussion of the detrimental value of these and other inequalities on a globally interconnected world cannot be denied but can be ignored. The evidence is indisputable that there are advocates and detractors that both fall prey to the great placebo, “talk about everything but don’t do anything.” In the meantime we spend trillions of dollars on symptoms while dysfunctional systems continue to feed egos but not stomachs.


How can we take the small step from challenge to change? The “blinding flash of the obvious” is that doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing. It all starts close to home. Step one is remember who you are. Think about what you hold as truth and what you value. The secret of who you are is evident in what you do. Step two is identifying your community and getting involved. The secret is recognizing that people are valuable. Understanding this drives building bridges rather than walls. It changes relationships. Step three, do it again and again. The secret is in using the habit of kindness that has grown in step one and two to change the world. History is replete with examples of small groups of people who have changed the world. We all live in a world that no longer exists. It is changing every day and the only way to remain relevant is to administer the medicine of action rather than the placebo of complacency.


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