Distinguishing Between Efforts and Results

“Who cares?” screamed the newspaper headline, the body of the article detailing alleged deficiencies in our child care system. I thought of the coincidental conversation I had just the night before with a friend whose job involves oversight of child care. This intelligent, caring individual was expressing his frustration with how much of his job is essentially useless paperwork, filling out redundant forms and creating virtually meaningless reports for various levels of government, primarily federal in his case.

He expends a great deal of effort but he is not able (through no fault of his own) to achieve much of the desired result (unless you desire realms of paper v. actual child care).

Caring effectively is much more difficult than it looks. Much well-intentioned effort never achieves the desired result. And, if it does, does so only briefly. The reasons are complex, probably because life and people are complex, and systems interact in complex ways and inertia is a powerful force, as is human habit.

Often people are heavily vested in existing ways. And change, even change for the better, can be frightening. This is particularly true if the benefits are not immediate, if a period of faith/trust and continuing effort is required before the payoff arrives. It takes courage and fortitude to persist through the night in belief of the eventual dawn.

I am amazed, though, at how rarely people analyze the effectiveness of their efforts, how little time is spent in follow-through or post-action analysis.

I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that many times caring “effort” is designed more to make the person “feel good” (think “green” advertising for products that aren’t, or “low fat” muffins that are loaded with fat and calories, or giving a street person money you know has a high probability of going for alcohol), than to achieve any lasting improvement in the underlying situation. Effective caring requires sustained commitment and a dedicated willingness to look for and act on root causes. So often we are emotionally moved by the need we see that we act to treat the symptoms before we understand the causes. We end up as enablers or co-facilators in an unhealthy dynamic.

Avoid the trap of treating surface symptoms at the expense of ignoring underlying driving forces. Look for what rewards/payoffs the current behavior creates and seek ways to create better, more attractive rewards for the desired behavior. Or more immediate, more painful penalties for the destructive behavior/actions.

Put more effort into removing restraining forces than to increasing driving forces. Remember the law of unintended consequences is powerful and capricious.

But above all, discipline yourself to care effectively by learning to distinguish between well-intentioned but ineffectual effort and the effective, efficient achievement of the long-term sustainable desired results.