You probably have heard the expression- “don’t win the battle and lose the war”. I think this result happens more than we want to admit. And when we lose the war, it can really hurt and cause pain. You forget to look beyond the immediate to see the long term consequences.
There has been a discussion recently on the effectiveness of the War on Poverty started in the Johnson administration fifty years ago. Despite the efforts to wipe out poverty, the overall statistics have not changed much- still about 15% of the population in the US are still at the poverty level. Regardless of the discouraging statistics, I know that there are also real success stories of how government assistance has pulled families up and allowed them to prosper. Yet, there has been a great and unexpected consequence that is far more damaging than the monetary pain.
The assistance has lead to real damage to the family structure in the inner city.
Kathy and I have been working in inner city ministries for many years and we have witnessed this first hand. We see single mothers with large families- sometimes 6 and 8 children. On the street they call this “getting papers” which is getting assistance based on supporting children. This assistance has promoted children born to homes without fathers, families or resources. With the available assistance, the mothers receive more money if they have more children. We see houses loaded with kids. However, in my own neighborhood it is rare to see a home with more than two children. It’s completely backwards. And these inner city kids have a very, very tough future. And the dependency grows and self-perpetuates.
With the assistance, men and families are essentially let off the hook. They feel little responsibility for the support of the children. “Let the government take care of them.” Other programs lead to the ability to distance yourself from family responsibility. Social Security disability is another example. In the past, when a family member became disabled, the family would rally around this person, help them and support them. Now, we let the government take care of them.
So what’s the message in all this? Should we be callous and cruel? Should we freeze-up in our decision making due to unintended consequences? Here is what I think can be learned:
Good ideas are not always good! There are great pragmatic ideas that are not practical or have unintended consequences. Don’t let the “good” sounding option cloud your rational decision making. Consider all sides, think of the future and any potential and unintended consequences. Like the description above, the consequences can actually be more damaging than the immediate problem. If you have a fight in the bread line and someone gets badly hurt then the hunger would have been a lesser problem- right?
Don’t be afraid to make changes along the way! We see programs go on and on that are not really effective. Why is this? I think part of this is a result of dependency but even larger is the fact that someone has their name on it. You have to admit that it’s not working. You have to admit that it’s broken. Sometimes its just pride or politics. Have the courage to admit that it’s not working and fix it!
Nothing has to last forever! If the concept has run it’s course then let it die. Yes, it will be painful to let it go. We tend to get attached to things. They become part of our identity. Be objective and evaluate and let it die if it is no longer effective.
The truth hurts! It can be difficult to deliver the bad news. When a project goes astray and you have bad things happen, the party is over! Many of us do not like to be the voice of reason. We want to stay on the sunny side of life. Let someone else be the bearer of bad news. In order to be a good steward of limited resources you have a responsibility to evaluate things for efficiency. Do the right thing and tell the truth- even if it hurts!
Leaders are empowered to make decisions and we must be objective and consider all of the consequences. I hurt for our friends downtown. They are struggling in many ways due to faulty unintended results and an unwillingness to make tough changes. The human cost of this is staggering. We continue to dig a hole that only gets deeper. Don’t do it! Consider all the consequences for your decisions and be willing to make the tough changes when necessary.
Win the war- people are counting on you!
Have you been the victim of unintended consequences? Have you seen the pain that results from the aftermath? Click on Leave a Comment and tell me your story!