“Here’s What They Need to Do…”

“For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”    — H.L. Mencken 

Did you ever notice how some people think they’re experts on topics they know nothing about?  And these same people always have some super simple thing that will solve a complex problem, that clearly you, the actual expert on this topic, just haven’t considered.

In the 25 years I’ve worked in homeless services, hardly a week has gone by that I haven’t heard or read some person’s easy solution to the complex societal issues of homelessness.

“Here’s what they need to do,” the person will start off.   Then they’ll offer some super simplistic idea….”put them all together in that big building out of town and offer them services”…”give them a job picking up trash”…”stop offering services and all those people will stop coming to our town”…”outlaw camping”…”turn parking lots into campgrounds”…  The list goes on and on.  Explaining the nuances of homelessness and who is homeless and what they want or need gets you nowhere.

It’s not just homelessness.

It seems like everyone is an expert on many problems. How to solve the mental health crisis? “Here’s what they need to do…(insert some plan to force people to take medication)”.  How do improve schools? “Here’s what they need to do….(insert some plan to reduce class size or arm teachers or add more testing).”  Worried about obesity?  “Here’s what they need to do…(insert some variation of eat less and move more).”   Do you suffer from migraines?  “Here’s what you need to do…(insert something you saw on Facebook about sniffing lavender oil or having more orgasms)”.

I always wonder if when people confidently assert these simple “solutions” they honestly think no one’s thought of or tried those interventions.  Do they really think people who have expertise and have studied these issues for years have somehow missed the one simple thing that’s the key to everything?

Life isn’t like TV.  Things can’t be solved in one 40-minute episode.

It’s like a form of denial.  We are in denial that some problems are difficult, if not impossible, to solve.  I get it, we don’t want to think that a problem is hopeless.  But when we focus on simplistic ideas instead of understanding the nuances, we don’t dig deeper.  And to solve our most intractable problems, we need to dig deep. We need to understand all the contributing factors, we need to understand the human factors, we need to try things and fail and try something else.

Most of all, we need to understand that complex problems don’t have simple solutions.  If they did, the problems would already be solved.

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