For a change in attitude, we need some altitude

Seemingly implacable problems harden when attacked with simplistic solutions, Kevin Shinn writes.


Complex problems will never be solved with simplistic solutions.

Anyone who is a parent knows the challenge of watching a child transition from infant to adolescent. I recall the straightforward nature of raising my kids in early childhood. At that age, they were fairly compliant, even with the occasional tantrum. If we wanted to go somewhere, we just strapped the kids in their car seats and hit the road with little resistance.

Fast forward to ages 12 and 15, and it became a whole different scene. Arguments and complaints about road trips and vacations were the new norm. I had to become a wiser parent.

What worked in the beginning no longer worked as the child matured. Taking away the toy that was causing the problem between them was effective at one point. Telling them “because I told you so” was sufficient for a two-year-old.

Good luck using either approach with a teenager. Parenting strategies had to grow up right alongside the child, which resulted in good for both parent and child.

Addressing social issues needs the same line of thinking.

Rob Bell is an author, speaker, and former pastor of a large evangelical church in Michigan. He felt the current system he was leading was inadequate to tackle the complex and nuanced problems that faced the church and society today. He stepped down from his position to focus these social and spiritual matters in another context.

I heard him on a podcast recently and found him fascinating as he dealt with the moderator and the other guest. They badgered him intently, trying to force his hand on where he stood on same-sex rights. After several questions, he finally came back with an answer I thought was poignant.

He said, “At this point, it doesn’t really matter if you and I think it’s right or wrong. What matters is the fact that your churches are full of same-sex partners and you don’t know how to engage them. On top of that, they aren’t going away.”

I thought it was a great point that has many applications.

Exchange the subject in Bell’s debate with gun control, and his answer still fits.

Gun violence is a problem, but it’s a complex problem. Like it or not, guns are not going away any time soon. And to try to apply a simplistic answer like taking them away and making them illegal is small thinking. It’s the equivalent of me telling my teenagers “because I said so” and expecting them to fall in line.

If it were only that easy.

I distinctly remember as a nine-year-old boy taking my first airplane ride. The destination for the family was Bermuda, and we boarded a Pan Am 747. A massive sight to a nine-year-old.

It was raining the day we took off from Tulsa International Airport, but it didn’t take long for the darkness to turn to sunshine as the aircraft rose above the rain clouds. My little eyes could not believe what was happening outside the cabin window as I looked out to see a very different view than a few minutes prior.

We rose to a new vantage point. As we got higher, I got a new perspective. I could see differently.

We need to get up higher if we are going to make progress in addressing complex civic and social issues.

We even have an equivalent term to my boyhood airline adventure. We call further education “higher.”  To pursue higher education implies getting a better look at things, getting more information, and a broader perspective. All this should better equip leaders to lead through to progress.

But as long as we are stuck in giving simplistic sound bite answers fit for social media, the opportunity still awaits a generation willing to lead differently.

writer, entrepreneur, and chef-curator of The Portico Experience, Kevin Shinn is a thought leader in Lincoln’s cultural, economic, and civic life. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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