Words are powerful things. They can be used to guide our actions. They can elevate our spirits. They can inspire us to do significant good for our fellow citizens. As a matter of fact, the words discussed below changed my life dramatically and hopefully changed my actions for the better.
Back in 1993, I heard 12 powerful words. Health care futurist Leland Kaiser was discussing ways that we should be engaged in our community. He noted that for community improvement to occur, each citizen must take personal responsibility for the activities in their community. These activities might already be positive ones or, more than likely, might be areas for significant improvement. “For anything that happens in our community,” Leland Kaiser challenges each of us as individuals and our society as a whole, “I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource.” Those are 12 pretty simple words but the message is a powerful one.
We have to respond by saying “I have to take personal ownership in the issues in my community (I am the problem), I have to work with my fellow citizens (I am the solution), and I need to be willing to devote my continuing energies to the community (I am the resource).” For example, for a drug problem or opioid epidemic in our community, I need to recognize that it is my problem (not somebody else’s problem), that I need to be willing to work with others toward the potential resolution, and that I will need to devote my personal resources (time and talents) in a positive way. And these 12 words remind us that if communities do not work together in such a spirit they can never really actually achieve success. Until we all recognize our common humanity and roles as citizens in our society, we cannot take the tangible actions necessary to improve our community.
We could just as easily substitute the “I” with “we” in those 12 words—We are the problem, we are the solution, we are the resource. Only by active engagement can “we” truly make a difference.
The downside of words is that they can be used in serious negative ways. They can demean others. They can belittle others. They can perpetuate un-truths that can lead to misunderstandings that will drive wedges between groups in our society. And these misunderstandings will not allow us to take personal ownership in the issues needing improvement.
Most recently, I perceive that the 12 words – I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource – have unfortunately changed or morphed into a perversion that is worrisome. It seems to me that we are hearing (more often than not for areas of improvement in our community) that “You are the problem, I am the solution, and I will use your resources” to change things.
We are certainly hearing this in our national politics, and these thoughts can easily creep into our interactions at more local levels. This kind of finger pointing does no good and actually does great harm if we hope to work together for the common good.
Only by accepting our common responsibilities to engage in the tough issues in our community that need our attention can we truly make a difference. So I am convinced that the 12 words – I AM THE PROBLEM, I AM THE SOLUTION, I AM THE RESOLUTION – are critical for us to internalize and are worthy of consideration for all of our actions.