About a month ago, the knob that controls our clothes dryer stopped working. You could turn it all day and nothing would happen. There was no question what needed to be fixed, and a quick call to the appliance repair service (followed by a week-long wait for an appointment during which my generous neighbors let me use their dryers) solved the problem.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and I noticed that our washing machine was taking a really long time to complete a load. Sometimes I would have to run an extra spin cycle. Or, I would go back into the laundry room to move the wet clothes to the dryer and realize it had never started. The final straw was when I pulled a load of dry clothes out to fold, and they were clearly not clean.
Obviously, my washer in in need of repair too. Unlike the dryer, though, I'm not exactly sure what's wrong, and it was a lot harder to recognize that we had a real problem.
As I wait until 8:00 a.m. rolls around to call the appliance repair company again (at least it isn't a Sunday), I can't help but see parallels to our work in the community. Some problems are easy-to-see and easy-to-fix, like a broken piece of playground equipment. Unfortunately, addressing the root causes of homelessness or gun violence takes a different set of skills. The indicators are there, so we can all spot the problem. However it takes an expert to determine the best course of action, which may be expensive or take years to implement.
What I find strange (especially during an election cycle) is how we treat the experts in social sciences. I know it isn't as easy as contacting an appliance repair service for a broken washer or dryer, but there are economists, social psychologists, and thousands of other researchers proposing solutions to the most challenging issues facing our communities. Instead of listening to what they have to say, we keep looking at the indicators stacked in front of us like a pile of wet, dirty laundry.
As we all know, dirty laundry doesn't clean itself. Eventually we all run out of clean socks and towels. The broken elements of our society will not be fixed unless we decide, together, that it is time to make the call.
In the meantime, we can ask our neighbors for a favor (maybe to "borrow" their laundry room again?) while we wait for the experts to arrive. Fortunately for those of us lucky enough to live in the Southern Finger Lakes, generations of generous neighbors have provided a Community Foundation ready to help. But at some point we all need to stop wringing our hands, roll up our sleeves and with the experts leading the way, do whatever it will take to really solve these problems.