Roll With It

roll with

Photo by Alexandru Tudorache

This post is another of my essays available on The Mindsoak Project.

No pain, no gain.  We have heard this tired, old cliché a million times.

The thing is it’s true.  There is no renewal without some degree of pain.  This is true for each of us as individuals, for communities, and even for whole nations.

I recently injured my shoulder.  It happened when I was failing to act my age.  I wasn’t purposely trying to act younger or be younger.  It was more of a subconscious event.  I’m fully aware I am not young anymore, but it still takes some moments of pain to realize this time of renewal is upon me.  This episode just happened to be a bit more intensely painful than usual.

Many of us view growing older as an ominous event.  Our bodies give out, our relationships change, and our memories fade at varying speeds.  Yet, aging is actually a time of renewal.  With each passing phase, new doors open in our lives.  Opportunities not available to our younger selves suddenly appear.  Relationships deepen to new levels previously unknown to us.

As one chapter ends, another begins, and with this transition comes pain.  We hurt for the past and we feel the acute discomfort of the future.  This is renewal.  It is a rebirth and a rebranding of ourselves.  You can try to ignore the pain or fight against it, but reality will prove the only way to end it is to roll with it.

Rather than impossibly struggling to reshape the past, embrace the change and form the future.

Community Renewal

Communities experience the same growing pains.  My community of Dubuque, Iowa is going through a renewal.  We have changed over the years.  Most noticeably, our collective skin has become darker.  When I was growing up here in the 80s and 90s, we were whiter than white.  Most of us were of Irish or German descent and most of us were Catholic.

Since that time, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity has found its way to our small Midwestern city.  The city government and civic leaders, to their credit, have rolled with this change.  They have started initiatives and fostered community conversation meant to help new and life-long citizens embrace the renewal.

 Photo by Jakob Owens.

As you would expect based on our experiences in the U.S., this change has come with pain.  Not everyone enjoys renewal like this.  As humans, we like to surround ourselves with others like us.  It’s simply who we are.

It is our humanness, though, that gives us the capacity to accept and embrace renewal.  We have the ability to gain new knowledge, and experience diversity and change in new ways.  Though it takes years of pain, communities can and do grow.  My community is trying to roll with the change.  We are working to shape our future to embrace a new identity.

Renewal of the whole

Community change is one thing, but the changing face of a country is exponentially bigger and more complex.  What we are experiencing now in the United States is renewal on a massive scale.  We are changing in color, in faith, in language, and in many other facets of culture.

It is uncomfortable.  It’s scary.  In the end, it is simply change.  We can roll with the wave and ride it into the future, or we can swim against the current until we sink to the bottom.

We can embrace renewal or agonize over what was.

When it comes to renewal, the only true way forward is to accept the pain for what it is.  It is the end of one era and the beginning of another.  The sooner we roll with this truth, the sooner we can get to shaping our future.


innovative public policy
Photo by Alessio Lin

Why do we fear innovative public policy?  The solutions to many of the problems we face today could be found in such innovation.

The main barrier in the way of innovative public policy is the counterintuitive nature of many solutions.  It’s hard for us to envision solutions that seem to go against everything we have been taught.

For instance, Ronald Reagan famously informed us “Government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem.”  His declaration was clear, easy to understand, and easy to believe.  We can see examples where our government steered us in the wrong direction and became the problem.

With this understanding of government, it is incredibly hard to see the obvious instances when more government could be part of the solution to a problem.  Fixing our healthcare system is a perfect example of this.  All available evidence convincingly illustrates government-run healthcare systems produce higher quality, better access to care, and are significantly less expensive than our system in the U.S.  Despite this, we cannot seem to wrap our heads around these facts.  They simply run counter to what our intuition, and so many politicians and pundits tell us.

Another prime example is the War on Drugs.  Right now, the country is in the throes of an opioid epidemic.  Experts and our government have taught for over a century now that drugs are bad, and drug users require punishment to mend the error of their ways.  The idea of decriminalizing or even legalizing some drugs as the answer to this problem is completely ludicrous to us.  How could that ever solve anything?

Yet, that is exactly the solution the people of Portugal chose.  They responded to their heroin epidemic by decriminalizing heroin and all other drugs and investing heavily in drug treatment.  As a result, they have lower drug use and abuse rates than we do, and their financial cost of fighting drugs has fallen compared to our continually rising costs.

We need innovative leaders.

Solving complex problems requires thinking about the problem in completely counterintuitive ways.  It involves innovative public policy and innovation in the private sector.  The only way that becomes comfortable for us is when those who influence us show us the way.  It requires lawmakers, the media, celebrities, educators, and other influencers to be brave and bold.  Under courageous direction, we can change the rules of the game.