Many times I have heard, “Both sides can’t be right.” While there are certainly times when this is true there are also lots of times when it is not true but it appears to be true on the surface.
My classic example is the Civil War. If it were true the war was entirely about slavery and those fighting for the south were fighting to preserve slavery then sure, only one side can be right. But if those fighting for the south were fighting to preserve states rights while those in the north were fighting to end slavery then both sides could be right. They are “talking” past one another, but they could both be right.
A similar thing happens in some gun control debates.
One side (exaggerated to make the point) can claim, “Innocent children should not be shot! Ban all guns!” The other side can claim, “Banning guns will not make the children safer! Let good guys carry guns in schools to protect them.”
Although the proposed solutions are at complete odds with no possible compromise between the them both sides are fighting for what are almost for certain equally valid truths. Innocent children should not be shot and banning guns will not make children safer.
While I cannot claim any extraordinary expertise in this endeavor it is going to be far more productive to identify the things you do agree with one another on before engaging in a battle over the things you disagree on. Compromise may be impossible, but there might be solutions that are agreeable to both/all sides if you can realize you have a common goal. For example a orthogonal solution may work without stomping on either side.
What’s an orthogonal solution? In the case of the school shootings a solution to “ban guns” versus “good guys with guns” an orthogonal solution would be to “ban schools”. For example if children were to be taught online supervised by their parents or in much small groups there wouldn’t be such large groups of tempting, nearly helpless, targets.
There may be many solutions to a problem but without a clear problem statement and agreement that common ground does exist people are likely to get stuck pushing their solution rather than solving the problem.
Problem statements drive the solution. Incorrect and unarticulated problem statements limit the range of solutions.
In the case of school shootings examine the following problem statements, somewhat exaggerated to make the point:
- There are too many guns brought to schools.
- Good guys are prohibited from protecting themselves and our children at schools.
- An unacceptably high number of children at schools are being injured and killed by people with guns and other weapons.
Depending on the choice of problem statement the range of solutions are completely different. And there may be other problem statements beyond what I have enumerated above. Defining the problem correctly is frequently more difficult than finding solutions.
I know it’s tough but finding common ground and accurately defining the problem not only leads to a broader range of solutions but it also gets people working to solve the problem rather than fighting each other. Work on problem statements rather than fighting with others. We are better than this.