Root Cause


Roy Lobenhofer

I had an epiphany recently. It’s something that shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.

It was during our Thursday “Conversations with the Pastor” zoom meeting. We’re on our second pastor doing these meetings. It didn’t take too long for either of them to learn to not try to come up with agendas for the meetings. Someone will start talking about something, someone will add something a little different and soon we’re on a completely different topic.

Today we started talking about justice and ended up talking about poverty and racism. Our current pastor was telling us how his Rotary Club collects warm coats for kids and because of the pandemic the need is earlier in the season than normal. In an effort to keep underprivileged kids in class, the local school is keeping the windows open and the kids are wearing their coats in class to stay warm. There are a lot of things wrong with this picture. Some of the problem is the pandemic which we don’t have an answer to yet, but the biggest problem is the poverty issue making it more important for the poorer kids to be in class and there not being enough money at home to provide warm coats.

This led me to think about the income/wealth disparity that has been preying on my mind recently and what can be done about it. (Did you know according to a CBS news article[i]: chief executives were paid $278 for every $1 a typical worker earned?) While I certainly believe people who work harder and have special talents deserve higher pay, when is it too much? It must be controlled, but how can it be? There were poor before recorded history and the problem hasn’t been solved. I couldn’t help thinking buying coats was merely putting a “band aid” on the problem not solving it.

That’s when the epiphany struck me. Because of my background in engineering and quality, I was looking for the root cause of the problem. For those not familiar with the term root cause it is the thing that, as the name suggests, is the origin of the problem. In other words, it’s the one thing that if fixed will solve the problem once and for all. The problem with it is that, as said before, the wealth/income disparity has existed forever.

I’ve been frustrating myself looking for root causes of problems that have stumped the greatest minds of our world. It hasn’t just been wealth/ income disparity, but other problems as well. (Old men have time to think about these monumental problems, while younger people may be too busy living to worry about them.) Trying to find the root cause is not a problem. I’m sure everyone has heard the old saw, “Even a blind sow can find an acorn every once in a while.” Well, I may be the “blind sow” who comes up with an answer to one of these problems that have existed forever.

There are two things I must remember. First, quit getting frustrated about not solving these problems. Am I such an egotist that I expect my thoughts to come up with answers the great minds haven’t come up with before? Think about those problems but don’t get frustrated.

The second thing I must remember is helping with “band aids” is at least doing something and to give myself a little credit when I do it. Those “band aids” of buying coats may not be addressing the root cause of the problem of wealth/income disparity, but it does make a difference to the kids receiving them. Who knows one of them might be the one who finally figures out the solution to the root cause?

Remember the old story of the starfish on the beach.

A little boy is walking along a beach where many starfish have been stranded by the tide, certain to perish in the hot sun. The boy observes an old man bending down to carefully pick up the starfish, throwing each one back into the ocean. The boy ponders the futility of the action, given the large amount of starfish, and the reality that the next incoming tide would likely bring them back in again. He approaches the old man. “Why are you trying to save the starfish? You can’t possibly save them all and the tide will only bring more back in. What does it matter?”
The old man slowly turned towards the boy, clasping another starfish. “You’re right. I can’t save them all... but I can save that one.” He gazed into the horizon as he threw the starfish back into the ocean. “It matters to that one.”



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