I usually check the news in the morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to get done. I try not to obsess, but I like to keep up with what’s happening in the world at large. So, this morning I turned on CNN and listened to a bit of the wrangling over the Health Care bills. Everyone who came on had their little bit they were supporting or fighting. Everyone hanging desperately on to their little bit, pulling in their own direction. It reminded me of leading my goats to pasture. Every morning I have to take our 12 goats to what ever bit of pasture we have fenced for the day. I hook them all onto one long lead, grab the collars of the two leaders, and we all walk to the paddock. The goats pull against each other rather than fighting with me. Since I have the two strongest going the direction I want, we usually get there without much trouble. If they all decided to go the same way for a change, there would be no way I could control them. (An Alpine dairy goat can pull about 400 lbs, times 12… my 150 lbs wouldn’t stand a chance.)
Anyway, I was thinking about dysfunctional governments, the broken healthcare system, and how unlikely it was that anything meaningful would come out of this process as I went to do chores this morning. I walked into the barn and this is what I saw
Epiphany! All the little pieces of my brain came to gether and I Understood. They asked the wrong question. They asked how they could fix the system, and everyone grabbed a bit to fix or protect. They should have asked “What is the best health care system for everyone?” and worked from there on creating one that worked.
That’s what happened with this lovely fence. Three years ago we had a goat about to give birth. It was her first time, and I could tell that it wouldn’t be easy. I needed a pen where I could isolate her. So I scrounged two old gate panels and a short piece of 4×4 and cobbled together a pen. It did the job, and has served similar purposes since then. But it wasn’t built properly, it was in the wrong spot, it was too small, and it wasn’t really goat proof. Shortly after building this pen I realized it had some problems. So, I fixed them. I added a patch to the bottom to keep the kids from crawling under the fence and getting into things they shouldn’t. I tied one of the gate panels to the other so I could open it like a gate to let mom out. It was basically functional again. Later one of the goats discovered she could hop the fence between the pens and then hop the gate on the small pen and get out. After discovering her out of the pen with her nose in the chicken feed a couple of times I realized the fence was too short. So another old gate was salvaged and wired on to the top of the fence. That kind of worked, except over the gate area. So I strung some wire. Success again. Then the cow leaned on the fence and cracked the old 4×4 so the whole thing leans. If I don’t keep an eye on it every day someone will find a hole and slip through.
My epiphany was that I’d been asking the wrong question. I asked “How do I keep the goats from getting through or over this fence?” The result was the cobbled together mess in the photo. It worked, kind of… If, three years ago I had ask, “What do I need to house and care for my goats properly?” I would have designed and built a different system. I would have used many of same materials. We always scrounge here first. But rather than spending my time trying to fix the crisis of the moment with what ever came to hand, I would have created a system that worked.
There is an idea in Holistic Management that I try to use (but completely forgot in this case.) “Problems push, goals pull.” When we problem solve, we react to the part in crisis, often without considering the whole. When we have a goal, a vision, we act to advance toward that vision. We attend to the rudder and to trimming the sails, not just to the flapping bit of canvas that seems to be causing a problem.