Facing America’s Real Problems: Part 1


I have always believed that if you wanted to solve a problem or fix something that was broken, you needed to know how or why it was broken.  Dr. Deming used to say that you must understand the process before you can either fix it or improve it.  Without a fundamental understanding of the process, you can only put temporary fixes on a problem.  Something we can compare to taking ibuprofen for a sore shoulder or a painful knee.  The temporary fix helps deal with symptoms but does nothing to address underlying causes.  Without addressing underlying causes, the problem simply comes back when the “band-aid” wears off.

For years now, I have pondered two seemingly different and unrelated issues.  The first is why we cannot stem the tide of drugs in America.  The second is why schools are so dysfunctional today.  The more I have studied these two issues, the more I see the relationship between the two.  They are both symptoms of the same underlying cause.  Let’s look at each of these issues in turn before we seek a solution.

The Drug Problem in America:

There is no need to regale you as to the extent of drugs in the USA.  The “War on Drugs” has been waged on marijuana, heroin, crack, opioids, cocaine, alcohol, meth and now fentanyl.  For over a hundred years, some type of drug has been identified as detrimental to the social fabric of the USA.  During this time, we have waged this war by banning heroin, banning alcohol, banning pot and recent efforts to decriminalize drugs.  Little or nothing has been done to address and attack the underlying cause of drug abuse.  What is the reason that people take drugs?

The simple reason that people take drugs, besides the medicinal use, is to escape reality.  To escape from a world that is too violent, too scary, too complicated, too isolated, too hurtful, too discriminatory, too racist, too sexist, or too economically difficult to survive in.  Chris Hedges recently wrote that:

“Tens of millions of Americans, cast adrift by deindustrialization, understand that their lives will not improve, nor will the lives of their children.”  The United States of Paralysis,  April 23, 2023


America is divided into three countries.  One country for people with money and social support systems.  This is a country for the rich and connected.  A second country for people with subsistence incomes that are fragile and who have weak support systems.  The third country is an ‘In-between country” which was once called the “middle class” but over the past fifty or so years, has seen a notable decline.  Many of the people in this third country are barely getting by.

Homelessness Reaches All-Time Record In New York City

Men and women who were once able to support a family of four or five could no longer count on work that would put them above the poverty level.  Many of these people lived in rural areas of the USA where economic opportunities were less available.  So, what did America do for these dispossessed and cast out workers?  Nothing!  No financial help.  No serious retraining efforts.  No major jobs programs.  No efforts to curtail the outflow of American businesses to low-wage countries.  Simply graphs and charts showing how much more they could earn if they graduated college.  Did you ever hear of a college program for blue-collar workers?


From 2000 to 2015, I taught in three universities in Minnesota.  I repeatedly said that 1/2 of the students I saw should not have been in college.  Either because they were lost in terms of career goals or because they did not have the academic ability to fit into college as it is now structured.  During this time, high school counselors kept sending graduates to universities regardless of the fit between the student and the college.  Colleges kept admitting these students because more students meant more money for the college.  We have now come to realize the mistake that we made in shutting down alternatives to college.  Millions of students are now getting college degrees that are useless in terms of providing a decent income.  Furthermore, these students will end up saddled with thousands of dollars of debt that they may never be able to pay off.


Adding insult to injury is the loss of work that provides for the infrastructure of America.  Carpenters, welders, plumbers, painters, landscape workers and truck drivers are in short supply all over the USA.  Manufactured products may take weeks to order or be backordered for months.  I waited 3 months to get a “molded lead frame” for my F-150 pickup.  Many of the products that we need are now manufactured in other countries.  While I still support the basic idea of a global interconnected economy, I do not support a program that has little or no planning or contingencies for the predictable shortcomings of such an economy.  It is inevitable that robots and Artificial Intelligence will displace many more workers.  However, it will be a tragedy of epic proportions if we ignore the social consequences of this displacement.  The resulting societal disintegration will be on a far greater scale than that which resulted from the lack of planning for Globalization.


Where do drugs come in?  Misery, loneliness, depression, fear, and hopelessness are the root causes of drug addiction.  Eliminate the causes of these feelings and you eliminate the need for drugs.  Can we eliminate these “feelings?”  Some of them will always be with us but when we have a situation where over 100,000 people in the USA died from drug overdoses in 2022, we have a situation with a cause that is universal.  It is not a personal problem or a mental health problem.  It is a societal problem.

“Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), issued the following statement regarding the CDC’s release of provisional drug overdose death data, which show 107,477 predicted overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in August 2022.”CDC Drug Overdose Data

Those who want to ignore the root causes seem ready just as they are with our gun problem to blame the individual and ignore the common causes of the problem.  Problems that have their roots in our society.  Dr. Deming said that “If you put a good person in a bad system, the system will win every time.”  We cannot solve the problem of drugs by sending armies to Mexico or increasing penalties of drug dealers or decriminalizing drugs.  Decriminalizing drugs is a good first step, but it is only a first step.


Our politicians are blind when it comes to dealing with America’s Drug Problem.  Our “War on Drugs” is a farce.  We are no more successful at stopping drugs today than we were in 1900.  We trade one drug for another.  The solution lies somewhat in government.  We need politicians who are astute enough and smart enough to understand the real problems.  They must be able to put aside myths and fallacies pertaining to drugs and set up social programs that help people instead of penalize people.


We do not need more penalties for drug possession.  We need leaders who really care about their citizens.  Instead, we have politicians who only care about getting your vote.  We need leaders who are compassionate and not vengeful.  We will not solve the drug problem in our country by invading Mexico.  If you have a buyer for something, you will have a seller.  Destroying the cartels in Mexico will only transfer the drug production to another country.


As corny as it might sound, only love will solve the drug problem.

“Love others as much as you love yourself” — Matthew 22:37-40, Christianity 

“Never will you attain the good until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it” — Quran 3:92, Islam

“The one who loves all intensely begins perceiving in all living beings a part of himself.” — Yajurveda, Hinduism

“Love is a gift of one’s inner most soul to another so both can be whole.” — Buddha, Buddhism

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” — Moses, Leviticus 19:18, Judaism

“Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship . . . This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.” — Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i


We need to extend love to people who are outcasts.  People who are disenfranchised by a ruthless capitalist system that values money more than people.  We don’t need lectures for these people.  We need help for them.  Help that shows they are not forgotten.  Help that shows they are not looked down on.  Help that shows they are valued human beings.  Help that will enable them to contribute to society.  Help that is grounded in love and not retribution.

If you think that we can kill our way to a drug free culture or that we will eliminate drugs by killing all the cartel leaders, you are part of the delusion that grips American drug policy.  What will it take to erase this delusion and start seeing the problem for what it really is?

A lack of love and compassion for the underdogs in our society. 

Next week my blog will deal with the fundamental problems in our educational systems and what we can do about them.


If you enjoy reading my blog today, please see another blog I wrote dealing with this issue from the opposite perspective:  Ingratitude:  How it destroys our minds and hearts and souls

gratefulnessI want to talk about Gratefulness today.  It is the first in my list of the Key Seven Virtues that I think are worth developing.  Gratefulness is the opposite of ingratitude.  It is easy to fall into the trap of being ungrateful.  The world besieges us with evidence of our incompetence and faults.  Hollywood glamorizes the mundane and makes the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.  American Idol becomes the graven image that we now worship.  It is not an image of a gold calf or a prophet or a saint.  It is the image of success and fame and fortune that we all desire.  Even as I write this, millions of people are buying a lottery ticket in the hope of achieving instant wealth.  How many of these people are grateful for what they have?  I suspect many of them are very grateful in their daily lives, but it makes you wonder how grateful most people are when they will spend their money against all odds to become an overnight millionaire.  What don’t they have that they will buy if they do win?

Every Monday morning I start my day and my week with the following prayer:

  • I am Grateful for this new day and a new start. I give thanks for everything I have – especially my health, my friends, my family and my wife Karen.

I also say a prayer that my wife Karen will be healthy and happy.  She once mentioned to me that she appreciated my praying for her, so I have made it a part of my Monday morning start to the week.  My goal is to try to keep the thought of being grateful in my mind throughout most of the day.  I confess, I am usually able to keep it in my mind for about ten minutes at the most and then my day commences with the usual busyness and trivia that soon makes me forget my admirable goal.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 of gratefulness, with 10 being the highest amount of gratefulness possible, I would probably give myself about a 2.  Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to the Siren of Desire that drives one to buy a lottery ticket.  I do not want to win any money in a lottery.  I do not want to get any free money through a class action lawsuit.  I do not want to inherit any money from a dead relative or friend.  I admit I occasionally go to a casino and will play the penny slots for about fifteen minutes.  Karen has more patience and will play for as long as an hour.  We both allocate about ten dollars when we go for our “chance to win a fortune.”  We are usually at a casino for the entertainment or food.

My father was a gambler when I was young who lost a good portion of his earnings each week betting on the horses.  I learned from him that most gamblers were liars since they will only tell you when they win and never when they lose.  I still begrudge the fact that when I was growing up, my cousins (whose fathers were no richer) always had a nicer house, better clothes and more expensive toys.  My mother would regularly buy a lottery ticket and promise me that when she won, we would all be rich and never have to work again.  I always replied to my mother that if she put her dollar in the bank, she would have $1.01 at the end of the year.  It was kind of a joke.  When my mother died, my sisters and I had to cover the additional costs for her funeral.

I was reading a news article about two days ago about the continued recovery of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords.  I was struck by a comment that was attributed to her in the article.  She said:

“I wake up every day grateful that I have a second chance at life and a second chance at service.”

When, I read this, I thought there could not be much more I could add to the subject.  Here is a woman who could be bitter and angry.  She could rightfully complain about her physical and mental handicaps.  She could endorse stronger sentences for criminals.  She could lobby for fewer guns in society.  She could preach for more prisons.  Instead, she continues to pursue a life dedicated to service and to doing the best she can every day of her life to help other human beings.  We all need role models like this to really understand what gratefulness means.

One of my favorite blog readers is my sister Jeanine.  I think she is perhaps my most faithful reader, usually reading and commenting on my blogs each week.  Last week she posted a comment which included the following quote.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Etienne de Grellet

She mentioned that one of her friends wrote this in her high school yearbook and she has never forgotten it.  She noted that she has tried to live by this quote in her daily life.  Judging by her friends and what they think of her and the efforts she puts out to help others, I believe my sister is also a person who does what she can to help others and who is also grateful for her life.

Let us pose the question:  What does it take to be grateful?

I would say that the virtue of gratefulness is composed of the following three abilities:

  1. Appreciating what we have. Savoring your life, your food, your health and your friends.  Like you would savor a tasty dish or appreciate a good song.  Appreciating the good and the bad.  Realizing that the bad makes the good better.

Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes.  To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” — Angelina Jolie

  1. Living in the present. If we worry too much about the past or think too much about the future, we are never able to just accept what is.  Violence is caused by too much dwelling on what happened yesterday.  Greed is caused by dreaming about what life would be like “if only.”  When we refuse to live our lives one day at a time, we inevitably get lost in a wilderness of whys, what ifs, and maybes.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”  — Buddha

  1. Service to others. I am not sure that I can ever overcome the lure of fame and fortune and success.  They are constantly in my mind.  Except when I am serving others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am.  Perhaps the only path to developing the virtue of gratefulness is by seeing  and helping the down trodden, oppressed, sick, dying, wounded and poor of the earth.  There is no doubt that seeing the misfortunes of others up close has a salubrious effect on our mental attitudes.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you witness people like Gabby Giffords, Steven Hawking, and Malala Yousafzai and see what they managed to achieve despite handicaps much more severe than any we might have.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” — Dalai Lama

I have a little device that I learned in my studies, a long time ago.  It is an algorithm for change. You can use it for changing an organization or for changing your own life.  It goes like this:

  • Awareness precedes choice
  • Choice precedes decision
  • Decision precedes action
  • Action precedes change

If we want to develop the virtue of gratefulness, we must first be aware of what it means to be grateful.  We must be aware of what we should be grateful for.  We must also be aware of our ungratefulness and ask ourselves why we feel this way and where it comes from.  Once we are aware of our feelings in this area, we must continue to maintain this awareness.

Next, we must use our awareness to make a choice.  The choice is simple.  Am I going to be a grateful or ungrateful person?  Am I going to see life as full of opportunities and a place of unlimited possibilities or am I going to see life as a living hell on earth?  The choice is always ours.  The choice to be grateful means that we must make a decision.   To live gratefully or ungratefully.

If we accept the decision to live gratefully, then we must take action on this decision.  We must express gratitude whenever possible.  But more than just words, we also need to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.  Regardless of how unfortunate you feel you are there are always people who are less fortunate.  Start looking for these people and ask yourself “How can I help them.”

The final step in the process will occur if you follow the above heuristic.  You will find that there are more and more things in your life to be grateful for.  You will start enjoying life more than you ever thought possible. You will become grateful for the little things in your life and stop waiting for the big things.  You will become a person who appreciates every day that is given to you on earth.  Each day will become the best day of your life.  Don’t trust me!  Try it and see.  Age, death, diseases will still be difficult but you will find that gratitude can replace the sorrows of life with an outlook that can find joy in even the most difficult of times.

Time for Questions:

What are you grateful for?  What are you ungrateful for in your life?  How do you cope with the inevitable blitz of commercials telling you how inferior you are?  What do you do to help other people who are less fortunate than you are?

Life is just beginning.

“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck.  But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. ”  — Ellen Goodman

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