Nov 14

Guest commentary
The Art of Action

By Jessica Hale
CHE Summer Intern

In our world of high-speed technology, we have unlimited access to top news stories and new research. Identifying the copious social problems facing our nation has never been easier, sometimes to the extent that we feel every day is Doomsday. With the constant buzz on issues such as poverty, health, social inequality, discrimination, and the environment it is easy to become numb due to the sheer volume of the problems and inability to find a place to start picking up the pieces. Nonetheless, equipped with this knowledge we have a responsibility to act.

First, there is the psychological battle. Even though we are constantly exposed to information regarding social injustice, the majority of us choose to ignore it. The truth is, when we are not able to see how something is directly affecting us, we are less likely to seek change. There is the mentality that "it won't happen to me." That might be true, but even if you are not the one experiencing a particular social issue does not make it acceptable for that problem to affect someone else.

Then there is the complexities of acting. Due to the multifaceted nature of social issues, interventions have complex consequences. For example, obese individuals are encouraged to exercise more. However, if this exercise occurs in urban areas with high levels of air pollution, the particulate matter is a known obesogen and also has links to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma risk, which increases obesity risk.1  Similarly, a recent study found that when addressing teenage pregnancy, which puts both mother and child at increased risk for adverse health outcomes,2 the use of infant simulator programs backfired. The group with the infant simulators reported higher pregnancy and abortion rates than the group without the infant simulators.3 This is all to say that no matter how good the intentions or how well thought the plans, there is always a chance for more harm to be done than good.

There is a delicate balance to responding with inaction versus responding with responsible action. Being too careful may mean a program is never started, but if we are not careful enough the program can have unintended consequences. There has recently been more emphasis put on cost-benefit analysis (CBA). This process values all benefits against all costs to give a ratio indicating if benefits outweigh the costs.4  It is a good starting place and a way to look at a program objectively before deciding on implementation. Additionally, there are resources available for assessing the impact of a program. Since the program will likely not be perfect on its first attempt, those involved must continually adjust projects to optimize benefits while addressing unintended consequences as they arise. Evaluating utility, feasibility, propriety, and accuracy gives those involved the chance to correct the intervention and produce a program that works.5

The key point is to get started. Whatever it is that draws your interest, people are needed to approach the problem in new and innovative ways. Push past the freeze of coming up with the perfect program because there is likely no such thing. Become aware of the problem, learn all that you can about it, then use your best judgment to take action.

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Tags: psychosocial environmentlegal or economic issues