Healthcare, Education, Led Zeppelin and the Future of the World

News item: The UN Panel on Climate Change announces that global warming can be contained, and for a reasonable price. “Not without straining the economy,” says the Bush administration.

Anymore, news stories all seem to run into each other in my mind, all sporting the same theme: We accomplish what we focus on, what we hold ourselves accountable for.

We can focus on building a healthy, vibrant world, and all that would bring in the long term and the short term.

Or we can focus on making ourselves comfortable today, ignoring the fact that everything we do now is indeed creating the future, even as we ignore that fact!

Reading the newspaper is therefore never a quiet time in my house. No matter the issue, my musings all tend to circle back to the same thoughts: Why must we always weigh the future against the present as an either/or? And in that preposterous battle, why must the present always win?

For me, the issue never stays on global warming (or the war, or whichever topic is above the fold that day). Because we are spending most of our professional time these days in the fields of Healthcare and Education, usually that is where my thoughts end up.

Healthcare and Education: Problem-Solving Today or Creating the Future?
The same questions that haunt me as I read the newspaper also drive our work with leaders in both the Healthcare and Education arenas. Whose future are we creating? And how can we stop focusing solely on today’s issues, and begin to instead focus today’s efforts on the tomorrow we want to create for our communities?

As a species, wherever we live on this globe, humans tend to dismiss the fact that the present is merely the sum of all the causes and effects that have come before us, both manmade and natural. And from that, we dismiss the power that gives us to create the future. It is an immense power. If we can dream it, we can create it.

That is the difference between problem-solving approaches and approaches that aim at creating an incredible future. Problem-solving approaches assume that the best future we can aim for is “today minus our problems.” Approaches that aim at creating the future, however, assume that the best future we can aim for is the best future we can imagine.

And when it comes to looking at the future we want to create for our communities, what better places to focus that thinking than in Healthcare and Education?

Our work in these two arenas has been far more encouraging / exhilarating / exciting than the gloom and doom of the newspapers. That is because that work has moved away from problem-solving questions, and on towards the questions of the future these groups want to create.

Changing the Question Changes Everything
What would it look like if our communities were really healthy? What would a strong, vibrant, resilient, alive community look like? And how do we begin to create that future?

What would the world look like if our education system were 100% effective? If we were 100% successful at educating people, young and old, what future might that create? And how do we begin to create that future?

These are not the questions Healthcare and Education leaders are used to asking – or answering!

In Healthcare, one foundation we worked with realized they had not been funding healthcare at all – they had been funding “sick” care. And our ongoing conversations with hospital leaders bear this out. While the IRS’s emphasis on nonprofit hospitals living up to their Community Benefit missions has certainly struck a chord, few hospitals are asking questions beyond the problem-solving “sick care” questions in their Community Benefit deliberations. And while many of those hospitals are seeing this as a great opportunity to develop large-scale prevention programs, even those prevention efforts are problem-solving in nature, rather than vision-reaching.

There is a vast difference between the question, “What might an effective diabetes prevention program look like?” and the question, “What would it take to create such a healthy community that we don’t have to consider a diabetes prevention program? What would such a community look like, and what might our role be in creating that?”

We find the same sorts of stories in the Education arena. We have stopped being stunned in our conversations with education leaders – stunned at their answers when we ask, “What would success look like?”

The answers we repeatedly receive have nothing to do with the world, the community, the students – the real end result for successful education efforts. The answers instead relate to increased attendance, decreased drop-out rates, increased funding. Colleges tell us success equals enrollment, the quality of students they are able to attract. Me me me. Success is about our school, our enrollment, our status.

YET, with both Healthcare groups and Education groups, when we open up the discussion to, “What is our highest potential? And how can we reach for that?” it is amazing how the conversation changes. The room lights up. The energy is palpable, because those questions are at the heart of why we all got into this work in the first place!

Healthy communities, where everyone is participating actively in their own well-being, and all the infrastructure to support that.

Bright, curious, capable communities, where students are excited about learning, not just while they are in school, but engaged in learning after they graduate, becoming lifelong learners and teachers and leaders.

Through these conversations, people start talking about all the “non-health” and “non education” factors that indeed contribute to both Health and Education – topics they typically don’t have time to discuss when they are narrowly focusing on today’s bottom line issues. They talk about all the contributing factors; they talk about the reality of cause and effect, and how perhaps we can influence some of those causes, to aim at the future we want to create for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

What these Healthcare and Education groups quickly realize is that aiming at creating the future does not in any way limit their ability to do today’s work in a conscious, practical, effective and yes, even efficient way – quite the contrary. What they find instead is that a larger, more visionary context actually enhances the effectiveness of today’s work! They see that it is, in fact, infinitely practical to put today’s work in the context of that bigger future we are all part of, and that yes, it is also infinitely impractical to do that work in any other way.

So when I read about the report from the UN Panel on Climate Change, and I see that the Bush administration is asking us to focus NOT on the future we are creating, but on the micro-focus of today’s economy, I come back to the watchword that is at the very top of this blog page: We are creating the future, every day, whether we do so consciously or not.

How silly we are to think we can ignore the future we are creating for our heirs. How self-centered we are, when we are shown two paths, and we deliberately choose the one that makes me ok at the expense of my children and their children.

But more to the point, how depressing. Creating a brilliant, healthy, inquisitive, compassionate, resilient, vibrant world is entirely possible, simply because it is not impossible. How very sad and frustrated and scared we must be to choose to do anything but that!

“Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” I never much cared for Led Zeppelin, but the answer is right there. And we get to make that choice every minute of every day.

What future are you creating right now? Which path will you choose?

2 Responses to Healthcare, Education, Led Zeppelin and the Future of the World

  1. thanks Hildy this is very inspiring. I have typed up the version of the future our organinzation is creating being possible simply because it is not impossible and taped it to the top of my computer monitor.