Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 October 2009

Stones or Guts?

Back in the day, it was called having “guts.” Today, it’s called having “stones.” Whatever you call it, it is a necessity for making big decisions.

Seems that the decisions are now bigger than ever. The President is trying to decide whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. The House and Senate are trying to decide how to improve health care. Nearly 25% of the children in Dallas live in poverty. About 16% of those have no idea where they’ll sleep tonight.

Big issues. Bigger consequences. Huge costs.

Right now, the President is trying to decide how much more to commit to Central Asia. Lots of people have lots of ideas – and agendas – about what’s right for now and for the future. The cost, short-term and long-term, will be huge. The decision will take some stones.

Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the new House Bill for health care will offer:

* Affordability to the middle class
* Security for seniors
* Responsibility to our children

She said that for less than $900B over ten years, we will be able to insure 36 million uninsured Americans. I cannot tell if it was gutsy for her to announce that or just not very bright.

The number is $894B. That’s about $248,000 per uninsured American over ten years – or about $25,000 per year. Make that $100,000 for a family of four. Sure seems like a lot to me. Last time I checked, I’m paying less than that. Apparently she’s not running for reelection, but at least she’s trying to do something about a problem that none of her predecessors were willing to tackle.

Earlier this week, Children’s Medical Center released the latest data for “Beyond ABC: Growing Up in Dallas.” Beyond ABC is a report on the quality of life for children in Dallas. The data was presented in a symposium hosted by Children’s President and CEO, Christopher Durovich. Closing the symposium, Durovich explained that the costs to help children were staggering, but that for every $1 spent in prevention, we can avoid spending nearly $3 in treatment.

Quality care costs. It can be outrageously expensive. But at that kind of return on investment, it makes no sense to not invest in prevention. After the symposium, Durovich reminded me of what the old Fram oil filter commercials taught us – you can pay me now or pay me later.

How much will it cost to stay in Afghanistan? How much will health care really cost? What will it cost to improve the lives of children in Dallas? What are the paybacks over time? When will we see a difference?

Larry James, CEO of Central Dallas Ministries, is a man I greatly admire. He also spoke at the Beyond ABC symposium. He said that the costs to build a stronger, healthier community in Dallas are beyond our taxes (what government delivers) AND beyond our charitable contributions (what nonprofits deliver). He went on to say that “tax” is not a bad word. That took some guts to say that in Dallas, Texas.

I hate taxes. I really hate the idea of higher taxes. But I must grudgingly admit that Larry James may be right. Internationally, nationally, and locally, the problems we face today are bigger, more convoluted, and costlier than ever before.

Donations are down. Will higher taxes drive them down further? The thing known certainly: costs will continue to grow.

There are no easy answers here. You can bet there will be unintended consequences. Simply throwing more tax dollars at problems will not get the job done. But avoiding tough decisions while big problems deteriorate may be a worse sin.

From our national leaders to those of our smallest nonprofits, now is the time for some tough decisions. Call it what you want. Be “with it” and call it stones, or be a “throwback” and call it guts.

Back in the day, my church choir leader called it something else since he thought the word “guts” was a little disgusting. He called it “intestinal fortitude.” Somehow that seems to more accurately describe what’s needed to face the tough decisions ahead of us.

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