Guest opinion: The key question to ask to get things done

It seems that everywhere we look, from broadcast news headlines to conversations with friends or family members, in every arena, from local politics to law enforcement to public schools, individual health, economic uncertainty and much more, we are in a near continual state of contention and conflict.

We seem to argue about everything and are satisfied with next to nothing.

With book burnings and bannings, and nearly everyone offended by something, we have surely hit a strange peak of almost formulaic, possibly even packaged resentment if not rage.

Cable news and social media are easy to blame for our elevated state of arousal when it comes to confusion and rage.

It turns out that any given situation, from suicidal intentions to international border disputes could be resolved relatively simply … perhaps not immediately or easily, but relatively simply.

When I was in college, one of the central principles I absorbed was that a well-constructed question often holds, or at least implies, its own answer.

If the question is respectful, and the answer is meant and taken seriously, durable and satisfying solutions can be found.

Remarkable answers come from a most basic question; “What would it take?”

From homelessness to potential civil war, to labor or pay disputes, this question opens up the route to lasting and satisfying solutions.

The bottom line — in any conversation — is that we all are nurtured by, and contribute to, those communities around us; those we were born into, go to school with and are neighbors with.

This applies to billionaires and homeless people, conservatives and liberals, employed and unemployed, young people and older people, and, when we think about it, every single one of us.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are participants in every problem, and to a degree, each one of us is, at least potentially, an aspect of any solution.

And if we could ask that simple question, about taxes, addiction, homelessness, public education, or almost anything, we just might get an answer we could all live with.

In light of what we call “The Great Resignation,” especially in the fields of education or health care, we might ask “What would it take to keep you in your position?”

Or what if we asked homeless people “What would it take?” to get them off the streets and back into a semi-stable life? Would we be willing to listen and respect what they, the ones that need answers, would say?

Our airwaves and social media sites are full of armchair experts on how others should live their lives.

These instant experts pontificate about (and profit from) the issues that tear us apart.

They rail about public policies made or not made.

But what if, when it came to public students, or immigrants or homeless, we actually listened to what they themselves said — and how they saw themselves as part of what they, and those around them, saw as a permanent solution.

This has been done before — and it consistently works.

The Iceland solution

Iceland has gone from having one of the highest rates of teen drug and alcohol abuse (and suicide) to the lowest. And they didn’t do it with inane drug eduction programs.

In fact they did essentially the opposite; they welcomed and engaged young people by asking them what they wanted to learn, what they wanted to master or experience.

In essence, the principle could not be simpler; offer young people something better to do.

You can see more about the Iceland program at

If you know anything about human nature (from toddlers to employees) you know that no one likes to be told what to do.

Whether it is vaccine mandates or eating vegetables, even if it is good for us, if someone is telling us what to do, our most base — and strongest impulse is to resist.

And young people, like all of us, really only need very simple things — like knowing that we matter and that, however we define ourselves, we all belong.

Morf Morford is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index.