Monday, September 7, 2009

Name Calling

Most of public discourse these days is conducted through labeling and name-calling. If you don’t agree with someone, just call them a name – socialist, right-wing nut, extremist, communist – and on.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother and I found it too tedious use full words in the escalating war of name calling, so we resorted to initials. Of course, we had to have periodic rational discourse to negotiate the meaning of any initials added to the alphabet soup. Otherwise, the insult just wouldn’t have the intended punch.

The core insult got up to 14 letters something like: XXXXXXXSPCCRFX. The six letters before the last X stood for “spoiled privileged character crummy rat fink." The X'ed-out letters reflected our ignorance as children. I still remember them, as I’m sure my brother does, but I won’t repeat them. I now know better.

When I was in college, I was taught to have an open mind, to consider other perspectives on issues, to be tolerant of other viewpoints. If that’s still taught, we’re not learning it.

Why? Beyond making fame and fortune for the few, what’s the instrumentality for the perpetuation of society and civilization in staking out provocative and polarizing positions? Have we all forgotten how to think and talk to each other?

The debate over national health care continues. There are five bills in congress and the white house is poised to stake out a position this week. As an HR professional, I’ve been watching and dealing with escalating health-care premiums, cost shifting and employer medical plan benefit design for over 25 years. I’ve been listening to the debate and watching things get worse. In the 80’s there were 30 million uninsured now there are 47 million. Known in-efficiencies have not been addressed. People get locked into jobs they don’t want or can’t do because they can’t lose medical coverage. It really needs to be fixed. The problem is someone’s ox gets gored in the fixing process. But in the long run, our collective ox is gored by continuation of the status quo.

I don’t know what the solution is. In the 90’s I asked a Wharton professor who specialized in employer-provided benefit plans, “How should a private employer best position itself in the turbulent environment for employer-provided medical insurance.” His answer was, “I don’t know, and if I don’t know, nobody knows.” I think that’s still true.

So, let’s stop the name calling, let’s grow up, open our minds, have civil discourse and solve the problem without fatally goring anyone’s ox. Let’s take the long view and do what’s best for those who come after us. Not just for healthcare but for life, community and civilization. It’s a lot more productive than thinking up new insulting names or initials.