Arrested refugees-immigrants in Fylakio detention center, Evros, Greece

CC BY-SA 3.0

Children being torn from their parents at the border, countries refusing to allow survivors to land on their shores and millions huddled in refugee camps throughout the world – we’re seeing these scenes on television and social media every day and they spark intense debate.  What are we to do – erect walls or allow them to shelter in our country?  Do we apply a strict version of the law or take a moral stance?

I suggest we are asking the wrong questions.

My quality training has taught me to always stop and assess a situation presented as a problem.  Why?  Because what’s presented is usually not the problem, but a symptom of the real problem.

I’m not suggesting that what’s happening at the southern border (of whatever country you wish to choose) is not something that must be dealt with – that would be inhumane.  My religion, my upbringing, and my personal beliefs all demand that suffering be minimized.  What I’m suggesting is we seek a better solution.

Let me illustrate with a Gedanken or Thought Experiment – a technique developed by theorical physicists in the early 20th century to deal with Relativity.  Let’s assume for a moment that tomorrow the immigrants and refugees are dealt with in a safe, humane fashion that everyone finds acceptable – yes, it’s impossible but so is a human traveling at the speed of light – just accept the premise.  Now, what would be the result?  Likely, the next day there would be more immigrants and refugees.  The same “problem” occurs again and again.  Because we are not addressing the cause of the immigrants and refugees.

Here is where my quality training kicks in and I use the 5 Whys technique.  Let’s try it!

Why 1 – Why are immigrants and refugees appearing at the borders?

Answer – They are seeking safety and security, i.e., they fear for their lives because of violence and threat of starvation.

Why 2 – Why do they fear for their lives?

Answer – There is (choose one) war, gang violence, famine, repressive regimes, etc. in their homeland.

Why 3 – Why is there (choose one) war, gang violence, famine, repressive regimes, etc. in their homeland?

Answer – There are people seeking domination for power or greed (war/gangs/regimes) or failed economic and agricultural policy.

We have only gone to 3 Whys but this illustrates the technique enough (and further Whys required analysis of specific situations).  If you want to solve the immigrant and refugee crisis, the solution isn’t what you do at your border, but what you do to remove the reason for people to migrant or to flee their homelands.

But that requires work and often it’s more advantageous to ignore the root cause of a problem.  Solve the Syrian civil war – hard.  Reject Syrian refuges from entering your country – easy.  Ending gang violence in Guatemala – hard.  Putting Guatemalan refugees in detention centers – easy.

The reason that people seek magic pills to lose weight is the same reason why we will continue to have an immigrant and refugee problem – we sly away from doing the hard, slow work (diet and exercise, diplomacy and development) in preference of the quick fix (pills/liposuction, detention centers and closed borders).

We’re solving the wrong problem.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.