Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Proposing Solutions

No one likes to be wrong.  I would wager that most of us don't even like to be disagreed with.  That's why the most popular articles and thoughts tend to be the ones that are--literally--popular.

My sister recently wrote a very good article on the ethical challenges of prenatal testing.  It was a clear, articulate overview that identified and explained the arguments on both sides--reproductive freedom vs. discrimination.  But when it came to proposing a possible way to approaching a solution, she confided in me that she was hesitant to take a stand.

"I just like to say '...and this is the problem.  These are the issues.  Everything is hard,'" she told me.  I found myself agreeing with her, noting that I tended to do the same.  "I'm comfortable identifying blurs.  But someone has to draw the lines," my sister said.

Ilana did end up suggesting a solution in her article.  But her reluctance to to do stemmed from her desire for her article to be well-received.  And to be well-received, people have to agree with it.  Obviously, this is particularly relevant for those of us who are young, low on the totem pole, and have fewer credentials we can stake an opinion on.

In our medical ethics course, we learned the relevant issues at stake in specific medical scenarios.  We could identify values and conflicts.  But at what point should we go beyond saying, "This is an example of the overmedicalization of normal variation" and actually attempt to draw lines in the sand?

It is hard to disagree with the aforementioned quotation.  Draw a single line, though, and the entire class will poke holes in your argument.  There will be rebuttals, counterexamples, and slippery slopes.  This is the point of an ethics class, of course.  But what about in a more public forum, one that is less conducive to debate?

Say, an article.  It is not fun when an audience pokes holes in your article.

There are certain people who I admire who do not hesitate to propose bold, original theories and solutions.  Paul Graham and Penelope Trunk come to mind.  Yet these same people are also accused of oversimplifying the issues at stake, or being too confident, or being too argumentative.  They are either loved or hated.

I think most of us would choose to be simply "liked" rather than "loved and hated."

But this is also why we have far more articles with themes of "this is a complicated issue with no easy solutions" than we do with "here's an innovative proposal that just may work."

I know I can't please everyone, and it's intimating to propose in a public forum something that won't.  Still just a medical student here.  Still twenty four years old.  Still scared to death of being "hated."

But I recognize that often the most polarizing figures are also the ones who change the world the most.


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