“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom,” wrote Isaac Asimov in a moment of frustration. Was he correct? Of course he was. The Information Age brings us new findings every minute of the day and our ability to assimilate that knowledge for the betterment of our communities doesn’t so much depend on our brain as our character.
Everyone has answers these days, as our digital screens display relentless bits of information, research findings, and happenings across the globe. People are finding answers for everything – how to fix an eavestrough, invest in stocks, tend a garden or hold a meeting. Our days are daily journeys of discovery that assist with practical solutions or just quenching our thirst for information.
But what about answers to climate change, renewable cities, citizen engagement, true gender equality, or effective economies? Are those answers available? Of course – everywhere. Outside of the extreme voices on such issues, most of us understand what needs to be done and that it’s getting a little late in the day for us to take action. And yet we can’t find a way forward despite all our knowledge. Perhaps it’s that answers are not enough.
This is where solutions come in – answers and solutions aren’t the same thing. Sometimes the smartest people on earth are the most irascible. They are brilliant and respected for their intelligence, but they can’t really work with others – their possession of knowledge has isolated them from the greater body politic that is required to enact their ideas.
Solutions are the successful ways we come together to enact those answers, that wealth of knowledge, that we already possess but which we can’t move forward. Information residing in those who mock, belittle, refuse to forgive or be forgiven, browbeat those who disagree or refuse to build on a fairer temperament actually drives communities farther away from the solutions they seek and need to overcome our collective obstacles. We become isolated people even as we live together in our communities.
We do not have to wait for clarity for how to end homelessness, build sustainable communities, invest in a more equitable economy or put science into action. We already possess whatever is required to get where we need to go. The problem is our inability to go there together because we lack the inner building blocks required to cooperate over a long period of time to construct that future just beyond our grasp. We always get offended or run out of patience with each other on that journey. Answers are about being able to house information and data in our brains; solutions are about personal characters big enough to work with others. There is a difference, and our failure to overcome our greatest trials and embrace our collective opportunities is because we have plenty of the former and not enough of the latter.