The Common Good

Health-Care Debate Requires the Wisdom of Solomon

Thomas Friedman, learning from an experience on safari in Botswana, gets it right in his NYTimes editorial yesterday ... Quotable quote:

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We're trying to deal with a whole array of integrated problems - climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation and the need to grow enough food to feed the planet - separately. The poverty fighters resent the climate-change folks; climate folks hold summits without reference to biodiversity; the food advocates resist the biodiversity protectors.

They all need to go on safari together.

"We need to stop thinking about these issues in isolation - each with its own champion, constituency and agenda - and deal with them in an integrated way, the way they actually occur on the ground," argued Glenn Prickett, senior vice president with Conservation International. "We tend to think about climate change as just an energy issue, but it's also about land use: one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation and agriculture. So we need to preserve forests and other ecosystems to solve climate change, not only to save species."

This was exactly the insight that smacked me upside the head when I was researching Everything Must Change. You can't deal with discrete symptoms without getting to the deeper disease-issues that underlie them.

It strikes me that we need to keep this holistic, systems-thinking approach engaged as we deal with health care here in the U.S. For example, when restaurants and grocery stores know they can make more money selling us over-sized portions full of and coated with high-fat, high-sugar, highly-processed gunk, and when we keep buying what they're selling, and when that produces an obesity epidemic - and obesity is becoming a bigger health-care problem than smoking, by the way - then we have to realize that health care is related to diet, and that one of the "externalized costs" of the food industry's profits is a sick health care system treating sick people and creating a sick economy. (Nicholas Kristof captures one facet of the sickness of our soul-less calorie-factory food industry in his NYT editorial yesterday, a fitting companion to Friedman's, as they both call us to re-situate ourselves within creation.)

So today is a good day to remember Solomon, that icon of wisdom, who, for all his flaws, knew there was a lot to learn from observing natural systems in their amazing interdependence. He was no one-issue expert who had climbed high into the silo (a.k.a. ivory tower) of one narrow discipline; he pursued multi-dimensionality in his life. For starters, he was (in his early years at least) a truly spiritual man, having prayed for wisdom over riches, fame, power, etc. No wonder he said, "The reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." He was also an artistic man - with obvious gifts for poetry, for music (like his dad), and for architecture as well. These qualities, together with his attention to plant and animal life, seemed to give him the kind of integrative, big-picture wisdom that we need a lot more of today. Here's how he was eulogized in 1 Kings 4:

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore ... He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

If he were here today, I think old Solomon would have given Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof a hearty "amen," maybe even a high-five.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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