I was listening to wonderfully effusive and charming scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently when he opined that nothing gets done - and he meant practically, economically, technologically or educationally - by randomly plugging holes in various societal emergencies by applying bandaids of money. He was as he usually does campaigning for the NASA program that he dearly wants to preserve. But I was struck by how applicable the next points he made were to a great deal that we take for granted.
The fact is (I am paraphrasing Neil) you only encourage more half steps and little progress by doling out a little cash to save this program and that. Science and math teachers be damned, he implied, hiring more won't improve education or elevate science unless we change our thinking by appreciating how those things actually happen. Advances in science, Tyson demonstrated, almost always come from a cross-pollination of ideas, not some organizational group-think or field specific reasoning courtesy of funding and isolated applications. When I was a university lecturer, I always found a way to remind the students that all subjects are one. Writing is nothing without logic, which is dependent upon math, which comprises music, and so on. Physicists, as one of Tyson's examples, have been responsible for huge breakthroughs in biology not by intention, but by stumbling on or developing something in their field that had massive human implications elsewhere when they shared with that other field or worked in tandem for a greater end. You can't do that, he was saying, and that will not happen, if you defund certain areas and think only bottom line. I would add: think of an old car engine: replace belts, a valve, a hose...and ignore the other older weaker parts while you're taking everything apart, and something else will blow when the newly energized part strains the weaker, unreplaced one. Get her done now, don't nickel and dime.
I love Tyson's infectious energy and admire his work, so I was moved, and not a little because I had many times observed the same about car companies here in Detroit whose stringent and narrow-viewed product development objectives and poor or non-existent people management skills and shoddy service had over the years driven customers to other brands. People lost jobs at those companies because regimented and uncreative thinking was transparent in the shortcomings of their once-renowned automobiles; everything collapsed. Thankfully, a couple of the companies seem to be learning to risk creative avenues to bolster both quality and image now as they improve. But we see such hampered thinking all over the place, again and again; almost exclusively, the main impediment to solving our problems is our resistance to work together.
I am delightedly put in mind of this most obvious of solutions when I contemplate my excitement these days as I watch professionals in Alzheimer's make remarkable inroads by thinking differently about the disease and generously about helping others. From the efforts to build a true continuum of care and home care outreach, to ground-breaking residential concepts and amazing discoveries about dietary changes that affect outcomes, to elder law planning teams who now employ community service initiatives to educate and aid the affected families they serve, I deal daily with people across the country who are finding ways with little money to cooperate and partner with one another, supporting and emulating sensible attempts to answer the problems families and caregivers encounter. It's thrilling. Research now routinely considers, as few were doing only ten years ago, the part inflammation plays in Alzheimer's, the similarities in the mutation to diabetes, the possibility of using Gamma Globulin some day to stall or reverse the disease, and so on. These incredible changes are being spearheaded by a continually multiplying family of concerned and creative individuals, universities and research centers with whom we on the Jeffrey Porch tour have had the honor of working, who are finding different ways to see the whole picture instead of just resting on their laurels. My mother never got the chance to benefit from this new supercharged effort, but she would be pleased to see the progress and the dedication. As we spread the word in her name, I'm thankful I get to be at the forefront of the revolution shoulder to shoulder with people I consider angels. We don't hear enough about them, and Lord know they still need a lot of help.
So I would suggest everyone and every organization could use a Neil DeGrasse Tyson on their committee or heading their board - or at least to carry him in their head. With everything, including Alzheimer's Research, it's the big picture. Inclusion, not exclusion; dialogue and sharing of information, not concealment to protect perceived advantage; open-minded investigation, not conventional wisdom. Doing things for the right reason, somehow, not only if we have the funding we deserve. Joy, not cynicism.
People need us now, and I am happy to report from the trenches that there are profgessonals all across the land who are doing their best to help families who are suffering as they try to cope with Alzheimer's in a loved one. Like Tyson, it's time we took faith in the fact that hard-headed determination to put our egos aside in the name of a higher good - whether we know how to solve the problem or not - always yields good things, maybe even inspiring...maybe even miraculous ones. But his message (which I admit I am rather liberally appropriating) is that we can't do anything alone, and every time we accept that, the results are historic, whether it's traveling into space or ending a horrifiying disease.
And if I may quote my tag line on my film poster for YOU ARE HERE: "All we ever have is now." So let's get busy.