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The wrong end of a problem

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 16 July 2019

It turns out that trying to run over a very large snake with a riding lawnmower might not be the best plan – if you approach it from the tail end first.

Trust me on this: That son of a gun will whip up and around and try to climb over the mower deck to get at your legs. I should have hit it head on, I guess. Lesson learned.

I wish I could say it was the first time I’ve approached a problem from the wrong end, but that would be a lie. The good news (if we can call it that) is: I’m not alone. Many of us approach life by trying to solve the wrong problem from the wrong end.

Here’s an example you’ll relate to: You’ve probably heard of the five love languages spouses can use to communicate affection – words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time and physical touch. Well, what if you define those this way?

  • Words of affirmation: Your hay bales smell fresh.

  • Receiving gifts: I’ll bring you some extra hay bales.

  • Acts of service: I’ll load the hay bales for you.

  • Quality time: We can haul these hay bales together.

  • Physical touch: Let me hold your hair back while you drink out of the hose, and then I’ll race you to the tractor to see who has to bale hay tonight.

I’m hoping you recognize this as a good example of tackling a problem from the wrong end. (If you can’t, then we should probably find you a good marriage counselor.) I can pretty well guarantee this approach to communicating “love” will get you bit.

Another example: healthcare. Americans spent somewhere north of $980 billion in 2017 on healthcare strategies. Outrageous, right? To put that into perspective, that’s about $4,000 to $10,000 per person (but it really depends on which source you’re quoting, so don’t hold me to it). Still, at $10,000 per person, I’m pretty sure that’s a low-ball figure and somebody out there isn’t sick at all – ever – and really, how fair is that? (We’re in this together, people, so do your part and get sick so my healthcare costs will go down.)

Statista reports that in 2016 “affluent households” spent $170.97 per year on nonprescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines. And there are at least 80 therapeutic categories of these. Why? Because we love to self-diagnose. We like to think we’re smarter than the physicians. We like to get stuff cheaper. And we hate going to the doctor. So we relieve aches, pains, itches, tooth decay and athlete’s foot with whatever product is on the shelf with a label that says it will help. We believe. We figure it’s worth taking the chance – what’s a few bucks?

In addition, the National Institute of Health said in 2012 we spent more than $30 billion a year on dietary supplements – vitamins, minerals and herbal products – of which, many doctors report, there is little, if any, benefit. Yet many folks (typically, and interestingly enough, the healthier segment of society anyway) take these as “nutritional insurance” because they know they hate celery and loathe kale, the treadmill has dust on it, soda isn’t going to drink itself, and they should probably quit clipping coupons for the all-you-can-eat buffet.

But we’re not at the bottom of that slippery slope yet – no-siree. Marketresearch.com reports the U.S. weight loss market rose to $66 billion in 2017. I don’t even know what to say to that, except that if physicians say it doesn’t work and is outright fraud, then why don’t you just buy some quackery from me? I’ll put something in a capsule that’s unregistered, unbeneficial and nicely packaged with overinflated claims, and at least then you’d know the money was going to a really fine person.

So maybe the problem isn’t that we’re tackling it from the wrong end, but that the problem has so many ends and convolutions we don’t know where the head is. We have no idea where to begin, so we just start taking a stab at the problem’s critical mass.

Which just reaffirms my original stance: We’d better just sharpen our lawnmower blades. Are you with me?  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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