Over the course of the last eight weeks, I feel that I have gained great insight to the many problems that face our world today. These kinds of problems affect everybody to varying degrees, and as such it is the responsibility of each one of us to do what we can to address them, to learn about them, to show compassion, and to work together toward multi-faceted and flexible solutions for everyone.
I think the greatest thing about this class was being able to hear from my other classmates during our guided discussions. When tackling a problem, especially a wicked problem, it is of vital importance to take into consideration the viewpoints and arguments from every side. It is important to listen to what your peers have to say, just as much as it is important to do your own research. Far too often in the modern world, advance in technology like smart phones and social media give us “outs” and ways to ignore the problems around us whether we are aware of them.
I do wish that this class had been in person as opposed to through an online platform, but I understand why it is online for the time being. Most of the topics covered in this class revolved around environmental problems, and while there is no shortage to wicked problems surrounding our global environment and our strained relationship with nature, I feel as though there are a wide variety of other problems beyond that of the earth itself. For example, how do we go about starting from the ground up to alter or rebuild a government that has systemically discriminated against minority groups from its birth? How do we ensure that everybody can afford to receive medical attention without going into crushing debt or worse, becoming chronically homeless? How do we ensure that children who do not have regular access to food don’t grow up starving? We are, or at least we should be, a well-developed country with the resources available to tackle these wicked problems head-on, but from a layman’s perspective we either cannot get any momentum started to generate change, or we are far to lax about enforcing policies and programs intended to aid those who are most in need.
I think that many wicked problems stem from deeply rooted societal issues, issues that cannot be changed overnight, that cannot be altered through governmental regulation, and that are unfortunately often disregarded with a shrug and a “life isn’t fair”. We regularly choose to ignore climate change because it would mean small towns without funding trying to create a bus or train system, so people don’t have to use personal vehicles. It would mean that every time I use a plastic straw, I am responsible for the death of the animal that consumes it in a river somewhere. It would mean that big companies like Apple, Nike, Walmart, and every single other major corporation that imports their materials or relies on foreign labor would have to completely overhaul their labor system and rethink the materials they use. The fact is, many of us do not want to acknowledge a wicked problem when we see it, because to acknowledge it and give it the credit that it is due would also mean, by extension, that we are part of that problem. We are part of the reason the ice caps are melting. We are part of the reason catastrophic, severe storms are happening at increased frequency and intensity. We are part of the reason that people must choose between chemotherapy and living with a roof over their head. We are part of the reason that american companies exploit children and those living in poverty in third world countries known for ignoring labor laws. In short, we are the bad guys.
But you know what’s beautiful about that? What’s so great about being the bad guy? What’s so great about knowing we are the bad guy? By knowing what we’re doing wrong, we can begin actively working toward doing what’s right. We can all make those changes in our lives, starting right now. It is never too late to start living for a brighter and better tomorrow, for everyone. It is never to late to start voting for leaders who are willing and able to make a change in government policy. It is never too late to start donating to homeless shelters and food pantries. It is never too late to start volunteering with local clean-up groups, to keep these priceless natural treasures pristine and to make sure they stay around to last for future generations. It is never to late to do something as simple as switching to metal or silicon straws, plant a garden with native plants, or start carrying around a re-useable water bottle instead of using plastic, disposable ones. In short, it is never, ever too late to change the way you live.
Within my own circle of influence, I hope to start leading by example. I purchased some metal straws recently that I intend to use wherever possible, I have tried to be more conscious of how much plastic I am throwing away versus recycling, and I have made a conscious effort to avoid unnecessary spending wherever possible to avoid becoming too materialistic. It is because we are constantly in this cycle of buying, selling, and throwing away that we now have such a huge problem with waste. There is a giant pile of dirt and trash some miles down the road from where I live, and whenever I am reminded of the true cost of consumerism. I hope that I can encourage others to make these sorts of changes in their lives as well, by setting an example and engaging in open and honest conversation about the many wicked problems that face the world today. If there is any one thing, I have learned through this course that I will take with me moving forward, it is that change is possible. Never forget; change starts with us.