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Deane Waldman Headshot

Nothing Is Everything: Fallacy of "The One."

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Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) was constantly being drawn to the dark side. He resisted. We don't even try. We instantly succumb to the lure of: the quick-and-easy; the blame game; the politician's promise; blandishments of the snake oil salesman; and the siren song of "The One."

How many times have you heard or read the following?
1. "Context is everything." (Twitter)
2. "Trust is everything." (Every daytime TV soap opera)
3. "Timing is everything." (Movie: Butterfly Effect)
4. "The key is _______." [fill in the blank].
5. "All you need is love. (Credit the Beatles.)
6. "Winning isn't the best thing, it's the only thing. (Football coaches)
7. "I am the greatest." (Muhammed Ali...and he was!)
8. "Everything is relative."* (Everyone)
(*) Albert Einstein responded to #8 asking, "If everything is relative, relative to what?"

It is a seduction few can resist: the catchy phrase that holds "the key;" that special person who has "the answer;" the magic "bullet" that cures cancer.

In the movie City Slickers, the late great Jack Palance held up his index finger teaching Billy Crystal about "The One," that singular thing that makes life understandable and worthwhile. While this was a nice dramatic effect, it reinforced the idea that such a "one" exists. It does not.

We all seek to reduce competing values to a single "winner," to simplify things that are hard and complex. We do ourselves a disservice by oversimplification.

The "one answer" fallacy has infected healthcare. The answer is: Medicare; HMOs; Patient's Bill of Rights; UMRA; HIPAA; single payer; and recently, electronic medical records and universal health care (so-called).

Every time I read one of these cutesy catch-all phrases, my brain wants to barf and my heart wishes it were true. (No, I am not schizophrenic, just human.)

Reality is...
Reality is Heisenberg not Newton, quantum physics rather than the world as a machine. We cannot know everything no matter how much data we process with our computers. The world has a mind of its own and some things are unknowable.

Reality is systems thinking rather than linear thinking. Perfect control and precise forecasts are mirages. Self-organization, co-evolution, emergence, structured learning and multiple conflicting goals - thinking systems that we are - make a mockery out of the clockwork universe and its predictability.

Need proof? Just think about the fancy mathematical models Nobel Prize-winning "quants" used to predict future U.S. economic trends, and where their predictions led us: right into our current economic mess.

Now for a little optimism:
Though the "one answer" does not exist, there is one approach to answers, and it is medical. Financial or political solutions are ways to implement. They are not answers in and of themselves. The medical approach to answers is just like practicing good medicine on a patient: diagnose the causes of illness and treat them. It is that simple and that hard.

For healthcare, people tout universal health care as translated by Washington means universal (maybe) health insurance. Assuming that were possible, they are treating a symptom, not a cause, producing another fix that fails. The cost of healthcare, now in the stratosphere, will reach outer space. To cure healthcare, diagnose the reasons for dysfunction and treat those.

"THE ONE" answer does not exist. The ONE approach does.