The Two Questions

When trying to solve a societal problem (X) I like to ask myself two questions.

  1. How can I solve X in a way that will help me?
  2. How can I solve X in a way that will also help everybody else?

If we’re being intellectually honest we must admit that we look out for ourselves — I would probably include immediate family here as well — first. I don’t think anybody will dispute that.

It seems it often stops there for a lot of people. I’m specifically referring to the far right and far left here but any views that are the extreme can likely be included.

The second question is a tough one. What does “everybody else” mean? Because some (most?) solutions probably can’t help everybody. So another way to look at the question is, “What won’t harm others?” or “What will do the least harm to others?”

This is why the best way to handle topics such as gay marriage, abortion rights, healthcare, welfare, GMOs, immigration, and more becomes clearer to me. It’s not that they’re black and white issues, but there is often a solution that is both best for me (“what I want”) and best for everybody else (“what they want”).

This is also why I don’t identify with so many of my friends and family on the far left or far right. Their solutions, while not objectively terrible, are often skewed to looking out only for those specifically like them. And sometimes, due to lack of knowledge but strong opinions, their solutions aren’t even what’s best for them anyway. I can’t fault them for lack of knowledge, of course. (Can I fault them for strong opinions based on lack of knowledge? Good question. I don’t know.)

Let’s take an example: healthcare.

What I want

I don’t want to worry about debt or bankruptcy if I get sick. I’m a citizen of the wealthiest nation in the world and I feel like it would be nice to be taken care of if something goes wrong. I don’t have a problem if I have to pay for insurance. I have a problem worrying that I’ll be denied “covered” treatment because my insurance company isn’t good. I have a problem being overcharged treatment because of lack of transparency. I have a problem with being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

What they want

The far left: comprehensive healthcare for all, paid for by additional taxes on the wealthy (among other ways)

The far right: everybody for themselves, pay for it or don’t get it


Let the folks on the right have their private doctors, private hospitals, and private insurance. Let the folks on the left not worry about having their lives ruined because of an accident or illness.

Now, I know that’s simplistic, and it’s not yet even a solution. It’s more like the seed of a solution. I’ve written a longer essay specifically on this topic that I’ll try to post soon.

But it starts there, with two questions. Getting me what I want, and also getting others what they want.

I know it’s possible. Although the divisiveness I’m seeing in politics is going to make it difficult for these types of solutions to see the light of day any time soon. But history shows that we will move towards fairness, even if things are unfair in the present and near future.


A previous version of this essay stated that the left wants “free healthcare for all.” I’ve updated it because that is not technically true. Also changed the sentence, “I don’t have a problem paying for healthcare” to “I don’t have a problem if I have to pay for insurance” because it’s more to my point.

17 Responses to The Two Questions

  1. Great post and I agree with all you wrote. Looking forward to the longer essay about a potential solution.

    • Thanks, Mark. That essay is over 2,000 words right now and I’m trying to make it more succinct. It actually spurred this “two questions” post as a way to cut all of this stuff out of that essay.

  2. Most “reasonable” solutions to a problem do hold the need to (somewhat) compromise for one or both parties involved which sometimes seems to be a hard pill to swallow (depending on whether both parties are friends, enemies or indifferent to one another). Even if a solution seems to be benificial for both, there often are unspoken/hidden agendas. Therefor, finding a solution that is objectively the best for all concerned can still proof impossible to agree upon. Maybe a third question is needed: “How can I present the solution in such a way that everybody saves face?”

    • Interesting point. While I dislike the culture of saving face — it’s essentially a culture of not telling the truth — it is definitely easier to make a change and find a solution without putting someone on the defensive. And I mostly agree on compromise, which is why I disagree with so many ideas (or solutions) on both the far left and the far right. They’re both too hard line and divisive.

  3. Hey, Karol. Interesting post. I’m attempting to link an article here that addresses your question of whether people are entitled to their opinions without lack of knowledge. In short, and I concur, one is only entitled to “what one can knowledgeably argue for.”

    For the rest of your post, I’m going to assume your writing about the current political milieu in the United States and upcoming primary presidential elections. Otherwise, why would you be asking yourself how you can solve all of these societal problems with two questions and bring in the far left and right in to your discussion.

    I’m pretty far left and don’t agree, nor does any current or hopeful president, that there should be free healthcare for all. Under the new/current healthcare system in the States, there are still something like 29 million folks without healthcare insurance and it’s not free for everyone, only those living at or below the Federal Poverty Line/Threshold and only if the state someone lives in hasn’t abandoned the Medicaid/CHIP program. For those who do have health insurance under the current administration, pre-existing conditions are no longer a concern when acquiring insurance. Whether ones insurance covers what you need, I’ll assume is specific to the insurance company and each persons plan. Let’s all assume that being overcharged due to lack of transparency is part in parcel for the insurance business, healthcare included.

    If you, or anyone, has enough money to pay out of pocket for private health care – no one is taking away that right for you to see any provider you wish. In fact, some friends are health providers and they far prefer to be paid out of pocket than have to deal with going through insurance to get paid. There are too many hoops to jump through as a health provider as well in accepting different types of insurance.

    All that to say, you’re right, it’s not all black and white – even in the far lefts and rights. Also, please stop watching Fox News (from your previous post).

    Keep on keeping on!

    • Thanks, Emily. You made a lot of assumptions and have a lot of misunderstandings about me in this comment. Although, you are right, I should not have used the word “free” because that is technically incorrect.

      • To be clear about the assumptions made:
        – That I watch Fox News (or any other news, for that matter). I have mentioned Fox News before, but it wasn’t because I watch it. It was to make a different point.
        – That I don’t know how many people are still uninsured.
        – That I don’t understand who gets actually free healthcare and how. Although this did prompt me to update the essay and remove the word “free” because it can be easily misinterpreted.
        – That I made the claim that my “right” to pay for healthcare out of pocket would be taken away.
        – That I didn’t know that pre-existing conditions are no longer an issue when getting insurance. I was explaining what I want in healthcare, not what is or isn’t currently available. (Although I am not sure how this is handled. Does it cost more? Are there limits? I haven’t bought into an ACA policy on the exchange and don’t have personal experience.)

        Whew! I think that covers it. :)

        • Hey Karol,

          I wasn’t intending to be contentious. The Fox News comment yes, was from your post about the War on Christmas which is totally fueled by Fox and Bill O’Reilly. I assumed you watched Fox from that post and a little bit of an assumption from this post as well. I apologize.

          Reading your update from free healthcare for all to what your essay currently states, does make a difference, at least to me. Thanks for clarifying.

          For the rest of my comments, I used the term “you” or anyone, making a more specific to you since you wrote this piece, generalization. Anyone could pay for their own healthcare out of pocket with or without insurance. I was attempting to bridge the “either or/grey area” of the left versus right as you described in your post re: healthcare. More specifically, anyone who can afford private healthcare – in this instance, I’ll use your “far right” folks can already have what they want and allowing others to have access to healthcare that’s within the reach of their budget (I.e., far left) wouldn’t take away what the (your question one) of the far right want for themselves.

          Apparently, I worded my response(s) poorly by getting too detailed. I’m totally agreeing with you in both replies – that either extreme isn’t a great option and more middle ground needs to exist where the most amount of people are helped in/by a system which is supposedly set up to “do no harm.”

          As far as I know, although I haven’t researched it, pre-existing conditions cannot cost the insured more for purchasing a medical insurance policy than if they did not have any pre-existing conditions.

          My bad, not meaning to make assumptions – simply intending to point out the complex nuances of both ends and that YES, I too believe that we are moving toward a more much needed and more fair healthcare system.

          • No worries. Thanks for not doing a “fly by” and coming back to clear things up.

            I’ll cover this more in depth in the future, but I think we’re generally on the same page here.

            As for Fox News: yes, I have a particular fascination with a some of their more well known folks because of how influential they are with their misrepresentations and rhetoric. So I do watch many O’Reilly clips on YouTube because he’s interesting from that point of view. But I wouldn’t call that watching Fox News. I do the same with folks on the left as well (e.g. Food Babe). Mostly it’s to understand why so many of my friends and family follow these people and unquestioningly take their words — many of which are lies — for truth.

  4. Thanks for the post and I agree. It really irks (aka pisses me off) that in the US all House and Senate representatives get free health care for life. While the general populace is left to fend for ourselves to either afford health insurance or pay out of pocket. Forget about emergencies most folks have little to nothing saved for such occasions.

  5. Why don’t we let people make a choice at some point in their life? Either be insured and pay more taxes for the rest of your life or choose not to. That would make it unnecessary to apply the same rule to everyone but does prevent people from deciding to be insured when they need it and deciding not to be insured when they don’t need it (which would make the system fail).

    The matter of course isn’t simple and I think it never will be, but I think it is possible to recognize that many people have extreme opinions on the issue (either very left or very right and who knows what other ideas are thinkable on the issue – maybe the distinction between left and right is just an invented one that doesn’t cover all possible ideas) and build a system in which all opinions on the issue can coexist and have something that fits them without necessarily having to build a one size fits all system.

    • Lots of healthcare responses on this one. Wasn’t expecting that. (Was supposed to be a small teaser for the bigger healthcare essay I’m trying to edit.)

      Anyway, making one choice for life doesn’t work. Mostly because not allowing folks to change their minds is in direct opposition to how humans are. It complicates an already complicated issue even more. What if you were forced to decide to eat the same food for life, or wear the same clothes for life, or work the same job for life? It’s an impossible thing to ask of anybody.

      • Most government healthcare systems don’t allow any choice at all, so in that sense it would be a gain. But indeed, the issue isn’t simple and people and situations change over the lifespan. Looking forward to your essay!

        • Can you explain what you mean by, “most government healthcare systems don’t allow any choice at all”?

          I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from, but also trying to figure out how to clear up or rephrase things in my essay.