When it comes to business, crime or health, prevention is better than any cure

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

In any category, from education to dentistry to business investment, a simple idiom prevails; prevention is better than cure.

Any crisis, from homelessness to addiction to mass shootings and much more, is far better dealt with long before it happens – or at least in its very earliest stages – rather than in its advanced, or even visible stages.

This core principle is why we weed gardens early in the spring, brush our teeth when we are young, and set aside money for retirement when we are young. And why we, if we are smart, fix a plumbing problem when it is a tiny drip, long before the pipes burst and flood our homes. And it is why we lock our houses. And cars.

A little work or attention now, saves us massive amounts of money and headaches later.

Virtually every problem is manageable in its early stages. From homelessness to obesity, every problem starts small – and with prompt attention can be taken care of – but if neglected over time, can become overwhelming.

Prevention is rarely exciting

There is nothing very motivational or inspirational about brushing our teeth or fixing those little potholes. It is what happens when we don’t do those things that gets our attention.

Rotting teeth or potholes deep and large enough to wrench our tires and wreck our car’s suspension get our attention, but of course, by then it is far too late.

The trick, on a personal as well as a community level, is to invest early in those near-infinite, but cheap, measures that facilitate, and sometimes even ensure, minimal problems in the future.

Keeping your car tuned-up and changing the oil on a regular basis will, without much drama, keep your car running smoothly almost indefinitely.

The same principle applies to every area of our economy and society.

How did we get here?

It would be easy to make a convincing argument that almost every problem is preventable.

Every business bankruptcy, every national, even global recession and the vast majority of automobile accidents are in fact preventable.

The tiniest bit of foresight and a little action at an opportune time could have made a world of difference – and saved lives, livelihoods and even entire civilizations. Wars, even world wars, could have been prevented – or at least minimized by a few prudent and timely decisions.

Ever watch a toddler doing something and you just know that something – an injury or a broken toy will be inevitable? We as adults can see it coming – but it comes as a total shock to the child.

Where is the adult observer when it comes to the crises that seem to surround us on a near constant basis?

When it comes to homeless camps, mass shootings or economic crisis after crisis, I hear the same question – “how did we get here?”

We “got here” the same way we get anywhere; by a thousand individual, distinct steps and decisions.

We could have gone a different direction, we could have averted catastrophe – and some did. In the 2008-09 global recession for example, several nations, with different banking laws, avoided the impact of the Great Recession. Australia and Canada as a couple examples.

The plague of mass shooting across the United States is another example.

No other nation has a similar problem.

Other nations, from Japan to Switzerland have very different laws and policies – and expectations.

And these laws and policies have been in place for decades – if not longer.

For the most part, those values are hard-wired into those cultures – and violence and vengeance seem to be hard-wired into ours.

Planning for tomorrow

Climate change and saving for retirement operate on the same principle; a few small changes or sacrifices early on could easily have a noticeable difference years or decades before, and are far better than the major upheavals required if we do nothing.

Problems and crises, from wars to volcanic eruptions, virtually never appear out of the blue – they usually come with ample warnings – over years, if not more.

For many reasons, we find ourselves overwhelmed with deferred maintenance in every area from highway infrastructure to extreme weather to dramatic increases in crime of all kinds.

Many of us saw this coming – years ago.

No political party today is known for its courage or strong vision for the future and no one of us is immune from the many repercussions of neglect that we see in our city streets or in our larger economy.

Few are willing to do anything that isn’t an extension of what we’ve always done before.

And business as usual has become the first principle of too many of our leaders. The status quo, no matter how grim, from potholes to weekly school shootings has become, for better or worse our “normal” -with few if any who object or dare to do anything.

But perhaps some of us can make some small decisions that will make the terrain where the next generation finds itself a little more welcoming,

After all, that’s what the generation many call “The greatest generation” did; they built highways and universities, established the largest middle-class the world has ever known and fought (literally) to preserve democracy.

That generation is also called “the builders” – they literally built most of the world we live and work in.

What will the next generation think of the world we have prepared for them?

A modest proposal

A popular bit of advice from dentists is “Only floss the teeth you want to keep”.

Imagine a world where each one of us worked to create a world, a neighborhood or a political climate where we would all like to live, or if politicians passed laws that they, like the rest of us lived under, or if businesses made products and sold it at prices we all thought were fair.

It’s not a radical notion. It’s what every good citizen used to do.

Every generation leaves its mark. How do you think the current generation will be remembered?

Like every generation, we live what we believe.

When we care, and behave like we care, it becomes contagious.

And when we don’t care, that too becomes contagious.

And leads us to something Plato warned us about many centuries ago – “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

To paraphrase a dentist, only take care of the family, the neighborhood or the nation you want to keep.