Many countries around the world continue to wrestle with wobbling economies.  The US has its “fiscal cliff” event this year.  Europe struggles mightily to hold the eurozone together, even as it questions the value of the currency that it created.  Asia shows signs of vulnerability to the other problem areas, and China says, “Nothing is wrong; please ignore the occasional cracking sounds that fill the air.”

It occurs to me that we haven’t gone out and simply fixed all of our problems in part because there may not be a right answer to choose.  There are plenty of opinions on what is best to do, of course, but while suggestions for action (both practical and loony) abound, what is absent is the ability to identify with certainty that the outcome will be as intended.

We can create a balanced budget, but will that really fix the economy; and if so, how will we know it’s fixed, and when?  We can put in another round of federal stimulus, but we don’t really know exactly what that will do, or for how long, or what we’ll need to do next.

If it were really so easy to create a cause-and-effect solution to our economic problems, it seems reasonable that we would have found and implemented it centuries ago.  Looking through history, beginning with yesterday, it’s clear that such a solution has not to date presented itself. So what we are left with are nations filled with people who must make their sharpest guess, hope for the best and see what happens.

But I don’t want to stop at the possibility that we aren’t fixing our problems because we can’t.  I want to look further for what is going wrong.  Allow me to explain what I mean.

Many years ago, my aikido teacher was working with a particularly graceless and impatient student who was having trouble understanding and performing one of the techniques central to that martial art. I kept getting tangled up halfway through and couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong to leave me wrong-footed and out of place.

The teacher explained with characteristic insight and intensity that often, the solution to a problem lies not where the problem becomes apparent, but rather where it actually begins, and that those two points are often very different.  So he told me to begin the technique, and move very slowly.  Almost immediately as I began, he leaped forward.  “See!  Your left foot starts out all wrong.  Don’t stamp forward — slide it to the right.”

The point where I became tangled and disoriented was much later in the technique, yet the teacher made me practice that foot motion.  Slide to the right.  Over and over.  When I finally got it, he allowed me to complete the technique.  Almost miraculously, the problem I’d been having in the middle seemed to have fixed itself.  All that work I’d done before to correct the problem when it appeared was wasted; what I needed to fix was the problem itself, where it began.

I had to dig deeper, below the obvious, to find the root of the problem.  As with almost everything I learned in aikido, the lesson is well applied to living life itself.

I see our current financial mess, and I understand that without an obvious and ideal course of action, we seem paralyzed when we most need to be decisive.  But our true problem lies deeper; it is a toxin within our nature that is feeding our political and regulatory incapacity. The problem is that right now, at this moment, we absolutely don’t want to cooperate with each other.  

Our political parties are polarizing the population. Rather than using them as a means to consolidate similar opinions in order to work together in a representative way, we’re using them as a way to create isolated camps that are specifically designed to fight and oppose those who are not “with us”.  We want to cooperate, we say, but the other side is nothing but snakes and liars.  We want to make progress, but those other fools won’t budge.

In Greece’s first of its two recent elections, out of sheer frustration at the incompetence and corruption of the moderate parties, the population voted in surprising numbers for more extreme candidates who were strident in their opposition to all opinions even slightly different from their own.  In the US, left and right alike stand up to hiss at each other, claim to be “taking back America” (even though it seems to be right there on the ground where we left it), and promote policies that are more and more extreme so that there’s no longer any common ground to stand on.  Each group claims higher moral ground as they point out the flaws and sins of the opposition, all the while engaging in identical behavior themselves.

Against this backdrop, how can we possibly act with wisdom? How can we possibly make good decisions that attempt to solve a problem rather than promote a petty agenda?

We can’t.  Cannot.  That’s an absolute.  We cannot fix a problem when we refuse to even begin discussing what is wrong in a spirit of cooperation and good faith.

That’s the root.

To fix our financial trouble at this point, we must now first agree to cooperate.  We must be willing to stand up and say, “Enough fighting. Somebody has to start the reconciliation process, so I will be different now.  I will cooperate and listen, and work together with you, if you will agree to do the same.  I understand that we both think we are right, but surely there is something we can agree on.  Surely there is ONE small thing we can do together.  And if we find one small thing… perhaps we can find one more.”

Without cooperation, all the world’s central banks together cannot save us.  Without a sincere agreement to seek common ground, all the currency trading systems in the world cannot mend our broken economy.  Without working together, we are lost.

So it’s a very simple choice.  Will we listen to each other, or will we just yell louder and watch with helpless eyes the gradual erosion of this magnificent, unprecedented global community that we’ve built?

Are you listening?

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