The Picture of Change

There have been recent discussions on these pages that have worked to find the reasons for the uncontrolled violence in urban and inner-city areas that are defined by high unemployment, low education and low participation in society, and high crime. Some blame Democrat ideologies and policies and some blame Republicans. In truth, these problems are American problems that arise from combinations of history and beliefs – they have existed since the first ships hit our shores and no one political party is responsible for the current condition.

Why we even think a big problem can easily be answered is part psychology, with pieces of American individualism and manifest destiny. We tend to narrow views and quick answers, and we truly believe we are right to do so.

Many of the conversations about reasons were accusatory in nature and focused directly on the current administration as the reason for inner city conflict. Some people clearly implied that skin color alone can create that degree of social collapse. That path to answers is represented by the circle. The whole answer is summed up short and sweet — “The President did it.”


There are clearly additional reasons for the problems in Chicago, as an example, than what President Obama may or may not have done during his Presidency. The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of stepping back to take in the view of a bigger picture.

For the sake of this discussion, lets imagine the problems of America can be broken down into 5 categories:






Each category has its own problems and America’s problems are caused by some combination of all five categories. At the least, these are the areas we can do something about. There are other categories such as religion and media concerns, and more, but 5 will do to prove this point.

This changes our little circle of blame considerably. Any problem America is having can’t be discussed and it certainly can’t be solved without factoring in these 5 parts of America. What degree each plays in the whole depends on the problem, but the answer is never going to be found by changing only one variable. The unit changes together, or not at all.

It would be easier if this picture was the adequate representation of how we should see problems:

concentric circles

Each concentric circle can be seen to be a greater ring of understanding about the point under discussion. In this example, the point in the middle will become clearer and more correct as our knowledge and understanding transport us farther out into the rings of knowledge.

That isn’t even close.

Our only attempts at problem solving at a national level come wrapped in the interdependent and sometimes indistinguishable package of variables that follows:


The answers are found in the interdependence and the natural interactions of the things we are asking about. This is a complicated nation. The Republicans didn’t mess it all up. Neither did the Democrats. It can’t work that way. Get to a larger view, the farther rings, and that will be obvious.

What will also become obvious is that the colored picture above lives and changes while we are working on the last imbalance we thought we saw. Not only does understanding require a picture of the whole, an understanding of its parts, and how those parts bounce off of each other, but it is time sensitive, because the problem lives and it is ever fed. It isn’t an accident that the Venn Diagram above resembles a simple idea of the living atom.

There is no way out of learning. Granted there is something to be said for the people who can fix their attention to one very small detail, but they are not the people we need to fix national problems. We need intellectual jugglers with a good sense for time. Our problems are getting bigger by the day and those folks who stare into our first small circle, they resemble the Ostrich– when their head is buried in a hole, the last thing they know is that they are about to be eaten.

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