When idioms collide!

CIMG1155_4We’ve probably all heard a bunch of old sayings, like “A penny saved is a penny earned” (Ben Franklin), “The early bird gets the worm” (someone gross), etc.  Anyway, in thinking about the Middle East refugee crisis, I realized that the only real (possible) solution I could see is essentially a combination of two of these old sayings:  “You will attract more flies with honey than vinegar” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Let me explain…

Right off the bat, I’m calling them refugees, and not migrants or immigrants, because that is the correct term.  Migrants want a better life, refugees want a life at all.  While there are certainly migrants coming to Europe all the time, the current situation has an extreme “wave” of people coming in that is causing all sorts of infrastructure problems throughout Europe.  They are leaving their homes and crashing onto the shores of Europe due to fear for their lives, not just because they want a better job.  There is a lot of discussion right now on how to deal with all of these refugees.  I don’t believe any country can build enough housing & associated infrastructure in a reasonable timeframe to make it “work”.  And even if they could, it is at best a bandage on the problem, because these people didn’t want to leave their homes in the first place.  The real solution is in the Middle East, not in Europe (I’m not advocating that European countries do nothing, by the way–the refugees are already there, and already suffering, so they can certainly try to ease that suffering right now).  I’m sure I’m over-simplifying the situation there, but even so it is complicated, so bear with me here.

The current mass exodus is caused by people’s homes & neighborhoods being bombed due to civil strife (not sure if I can call it civil “war” or not).  The civil strife is caused by a power grab.  I think it’s not clear if this power grab is solely fought by actors inside the respective countries, such as Syria, but it most definitely IS clear that it is waged with weapons that came from OUTSIDE each respective country.  What I’m saying is the exodus is not due to the strife itself per se, but rather the *tools* of the strife, namely the various weapons.

So why do these actors have these weapons?  Several external players, such as the U.S., have supplied them the means to destroy their own country for the purpose of “freedom”.  In fact, as of October 2015, it is even worse, as outline in this BBC article.  The short answer is, due to disagreements within the US government, we have decided to give them weapons & equipment but NO TRAINING.  Ridiculous, right?  But apparently true.

OK, so, if you’re still with me, we have a terrible situation that is caused directly by weapons that came from external powers (Western & other).  So, the easy answer would seem to be “stop sending weapons”.  Eventually, they will at least run out of ammunition and the bombings & shootings will have to stop, right?  Well, there are two (potential) problems with this approach.  First, I”m sure they can get ammunition, at least, on the black market.  That doesn’t mean it’s OK for the U.S. to continue arming them, but it does mean that if the U.S. stops sending ammunition, it may not stop the destruction.  And second, if the U.S. does nothing, politicians such as President Obama will be excoriated, so he has to do *something*.  And that brings us (finally!) to the collision of the two idioms.

What is “freedom”?  It is defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”.   In the U.S., we tend to equate this with weapons somehow (2nd Amendment and all that), but it really doesn’t have anything to do with that.  If I have a gun, but can’t read, I don’t have freedom.  If I am armed, but not informed, I don’t have freedom.  If I have cases of ammo but no economic alternatives, I don’t have freedom.  The idea that we need to be armed as an essential part of freedom is illogical.  Weapons may (or may not) be a *tool* to attain & retain freedom, but are not in any way essential.  What IS essential, however, is access to information.  Without access to information, freedom is impossible.  Without access to ammunition, freedom may or may not be attainable, but without access to information, freedom is impossible.  I would argue that access to information is what we need to be supplying to the Middle East, rather than weapons.

Supplying weapons to “the opposition” is like supplying a pound of vinegar as a cure.  It takes a lot of them (because “the other side has a lot of them”), they don’t make anyone’s lives any sweeter and the fighting has already started.  Imagine if instead, when we saw a potentially unstable situation like Syria developing, we instead went in with the express aim of supplying access to information (an ounce of honey) as a way to *prevent* fighting.

There is a telling quote in the above BBC article:

Virtually everyone in the US, including Obama, wanted to support the opposition in Syria. But the question was whether the US should send Stinger missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, or offer moral support and humanitarian aid and stay out of the conflict.

Where is the 3rd option of INFORMING the populace?  Why not barrage them with laptops & free nationwide Wifi?  Surely that must be cheaper than all the weapons (I was about to say “and training”, but then I remembered we’re not training them, just arming them), and it is directly giving them freedom, instead of just the tools for them to maybe get freedom on their own someday.

They cynic in me says our government will never do this, for a variety of reasons (the main one being the “military-industrial complex”).  But I was thinking, what if one or more companies did this?  I am sure there are other financial interests besides just military that perhaps don’t have as much say in our government but still want to be involved in some way.  As an example, wouldn’t the major airlines stand to make more money if the tourism industry in the Middle East was thriving?  Might they be interested in investing in a company (or nonprofit) who was “arming” populations in traditionally chaotic zones with access to information?  I am thinking of a TRUE version of Internet.org, not the perhaps-less-than-honorable attempt Facebook is making.

Now this idea is probably too naive to ever happen on a global scale, but the same principle can be used in your own personal & business life as well.  A preventative ounce of honey is usually so much more effective than a curative pound of vinegar in situations like:

Child-rearing:  a hopeful “Once you finish your homework we can go get ice cream!” versus an angry “You didn’t finish your homework so now we can’t do anything fun!”

Business: an ounce of product/market testing (but you have to actually LISTEN to the results) versus a pound of advertising & marketing after the product is released.

Health:  an ounce of daily focus when you are still healthy (diet, exercise) versus a pound of hospital visits & medications after you get sick.

The trick is seeing the issue coming.  You can’t do an ounce of prevention for something you don’t see is in your future.  This is where focusing on the basics comes in handy, which you can read about in other posts on this blog and elsewhere on the internet.  Running your self/family/business/government by adhering to basic principles that are important to you builds a habitual way of living that gives you “future vision”.  As Jawaharlal Nehru said “Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.”  Maybe I’ll start another old saying: “The more clearly I know what matters today, the better I can predict what will matter tomorrow.”

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