SILO: thinking that focuses on one issue at a time

A wise mentor and I were driving through farm country at one time several years ago on our way to an important meeting.

“See that farm over there?” he said, pointing to a farm with five silos next to the cattle barn.  “That’s a prosperous farm.  You can always tell what farmers are doing well by the number of silos they have.”

I think of that conversation whenever we drive through farm country, and I’ve found his wisdom to be accurate.  Those farms with only one, single silo are struggling.

I thought of this when I began planning this blog posting about silo mentality.  It’s a word which has emerged in current thinking to indicate that someone has their focus on only one issue at a time.  In an environment where multi-tasking carries a high priority, silo mentality is seen as a negative.  It indicates that a person is capable of putting energy into one issue at a time and fails to think in a more comprehensive mode.

This issue plays a huge role in the current political environment.  As candidates attempt to discredit their opponents regularly, they will choose a theme which they display as “the prime issue” for voters to understand and point out the weaknesses of the opponent in that realm.   It has been clear for months now that the U.S. economy is of major concern to the voting public.  Therefore, much energy has gone into identifying and discrediting words, comments, actions of the opponent in the area of domestic economy.

At the same time, other issues emerge, many times by accident, or sometimes by having been discovered in a candidate’s portfolio by a persistent campaign worker   In the case of the too-close-to-call Senate race in Massachusetts, for instance, the issue of Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee heritage became a focal point of the campaigning over the past several months.   If they followed the campaign advertising closely, people in Massachusetts would think that it was the most important thing for them to be concerned about.   It has become a criticism of her moral and ethical thinking process by Senator Brown, her opponent.

The reality is that it is a distraction, intending to lead voters away from the real issues facing the people of Massachusetts and the nation.  The Brown campaign has been very effective in making this silly diversion into something that masks the economic plight facing this nation.

Similarly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney jumps from silo to silo in his attempt unseat President Obama.   Whether it be immigration, foreign policy, or some personal blunder he identifies in the President’s life, it becomes a major issue and (at least for a few days) the nation’s voters are asked to become caught up in that matter.

The reality is that the presidency does not have the luxury of thinking or acting in a silo mentality.   The economic issues of Europe impact foreign policy and the U.S. economy at the same time.   Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism is not an isolated issue.  Its impact on the U.S. economy, foreign policy, the price of oil, and the place of women and homosexual persons all emerge in the discussions about our military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It would be a luxury for the President to be able to put his total focus on one of those issues in an exclusive manner.  But that can’t happen.

As the President travels to Mexico to discuss international matters he cannot avoid thinking about the immigration issues on our southern border or the impact of Iran’s posturing on the price of oil in Indiana.  Presidents don’t have that privilege.  The real issue of voters is to take note of this kind of silo mentality on the part of Mr. Romney and ask if we can afford a presidency that practices isolated thinking.   It’s a dangerous characteristic.

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Photo Credit: Maytown, Pa

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