There are many responses to dysfunction, many of them perpetuate malfunctions rather than address the underlying issues.
On one extreme a dysfunction is spotted and the manifestation of that ill becomes the crusade of a segment of people who mount their high horses to rid the world of that threat. The opposite end of the spectrum is a concerted effort to sympathize with the ill and normalize it to the point where there is no effort to address the item. Unfortunately we have become a society of extremes more often than we have chosen to be objective about narrowing down root causes for dysfunction and collaborating to identify solutions. This is glaringly obvious in politics but it is the modus operandi for individuals, families and businesses as well. By taking a peek at how we treat drug related issues we can learn something about our approaches to dysfunction in our personal and professional lives as well.
Dr. Carl Hart, a Columbia University neuroscientist, has interwoven his own personal experiences with and around drugs combined with his research particularly in the areas of crack cocaine and methamphetamines to attempt to provide sound advice in the attempt to address drug use theology in America. Drug abuse is a dysfunction in American society, and in the world, yet the manner in which we have chosen to address this sickness has predominantly led to expanding that dysfunction rather than curing it. Canadian physician Gabor Mate has made the alarming observation, “If I had to design a system that was intended to keep people addicted, I’d design the system [of criminalization] that we have right now. To create a system where you ostracize and marginalize and criminalize people, and force them to live in poverty with disease, you are basically guaranteeing they will stay at it (Hari, 2015, p.166).”
Dr. Carl Hart approaches this topic from a few key standpoints that are unique to his position: he first speaks as one who grew up in poverty and was able to connect with some positive influences who helped him shape his life out of the cycle of impoverishment and addiction; secondly he speaks as a neuroscientist who has dedicated his life and studies to the causes and treatments for drug addiction; and finally, he approaches this topic as a father who discovered he had a son who was struggling with the same issues he has been addressing in his own experience as well as his professional life. Speaking on drug policies and approaches, Carl notes, “Much of what has gone wrong in the way we deal with drugs is related to confusing cause and effect, to blaming drugs for the effects of drug policy, poverty, institutional racism, and many other less immediately obvious factors.”
Of particular interest to Dr. Hart, as well as many others working in this field of study, are the conventional methods of testing drug theories using rats in isolated scenarios. I found it interesting that simply by asking the question as to whether the structure of the prior experiments such as Rat Park were rooted in short sighted scenarios that did not account for the factors of life. In the 1970’s experiments were conducted where rats left alone were more likely to choose drugs than rats who were in a community with options other than drugs. Conducting his own experiments, Dr. Hart sought out persons who fit the criteria of DSM addiction, offering them small amounts of money to make a choice between drugs and an alternative. “They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.”
It is interesting to note that the day before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated he made his now infamous speech, “I have been to the mountaintop”, which continued a shift in tone and content of his emphasis from racial equality as a solo issue to the broader context of poverty. In one part of that speech, MLK Jr. states, “Another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them.” Dr. King was addressing injustice as a universal issue and the specific context applied to the treatment of Memphis sanitation workers. When we claim high ideals those concepts meet the pavement in how we treat those in positions often unseen yet critical to a local operation.
Unfortunately, we have continually chosen with our rhetoric, policies and enforcement approaches to maintain the status quo rather than make significant changes towards addressing root causes of dysfunction at the local as well as the national level. We can see this in politics, we can see this in criminal justice reform but these same threads exist in our personal lives, our families and our organizations. Is this leadership?
Dr. Hart makes the point that the main disparity is in how we approach the dysfunction of our drug dogma, that the cost of our war on drugs has been so much higher than investing in treatment and has been significantly ineffective in treating the core causes of the ill of drug addiction.
In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Hart is asked what he would say to those who preach “Just Say No” as a valid response to the drug issue and believe The War on Drugs is a salient approach to addressing the root causes. Carl responds, “Probably nothing. Those people are so detached. I mean, really, they are clueless. If politicians did care about their constituents, they would work harder to seek out people like me. They don’t (Chozik, 2014).” Many that I have discussed these topics with are in either camp of extremes mentioned in the opening of this writing, either there is an ongoing crusade to carry on the legacy of Ronald Raegan or there is an permissive dissonance with the reality that drug addiction is an issue. Positioned in the middle are those who are tired of the noise which either leads them to tune out or to dig in and put their energies to work for local creative solutions. It seems the loudest voices are in those extremes and they are given the broadest media platform as well, but there is beautiful work being done by many who are quietly going about their business in making the world a better place.
Where dysfunction is noted in an organization, and to be sure all teams have some level of malfunction, the lesson here is that objective approaches rooted in science can provide insights into creative solutions. To make a difference we have to face some hard truths and be willing to allow the evidence to take us through to a solution rather than hide in the shadows of the status quo or take our expected positions in the tunnel vision of the extremes.
Hari, J. (2015). Chasing the scream: The first and last days of the war on drugs (First U.S. edition.). New York, New York: Bloomsbury.
Rev, T., & JR., M. L. (n.d.). Martin Luther King's Final Speech: 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' -- The Full Text. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/martin-luther-kings-final-speech-ive-mountaintop-full/story?id=18872817
Chozik, A. (June 27, 2014). Carl Hart: ‘Crack wasn’t the real problem’. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/magazine/carl-hart-crack-wasnt-the-real-problem.html
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