Remember the Zax!

conflict 300x200When I talk about the importance of being engaged in public policy despite partisan gridlock, I often talk about one of my kids’ favorite Dr. Seuss stories, called “The Zax.” In the story, a north-going Zax and a south-going Zax encounter each other in the Prairie of Prax. Rather than stepping an inch to the west or an inch to the east to allow both Zax to continue their journey, they square off and stubbornly hold their ground.

“I’ll stay here not budging, I can and I will, if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!” states the south-going Zax.

(Spoiler alert). The story ends some time later with the Zax still uncompromising.

“Well of course the world didn’t stand still. The world grew. And in a couple of years the new highway came through. And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax, and left them there standing unbudged in their tracks.”

The image of the highway going around and over the Zax is exactly why I believe that it’s crucial for community-based organizations and other stakeholders to engage in public policy. When engaged, they have the power and the resources to develop needed community and social solutions despite partisanship.

Yet, I recently thought about the story from a new, somewhat disturbing, angle. It’s an unfortunate truth that limited resources often pit very worthy community-based organizations and other stakeholders against each other. When this happens, there’s a risk that stakeholders shift their focus from their missions (helping people in the community) to winning the resources first that will allow them to do isolated—rather than holistic—work that aims to help people.

The lesson that the Zax teaches me is this: Regardless of whether you are a policymaker or an organization engaged in the policymaking process, the truth is that the best and most innovative solutions are always found when competitors view one another as potential partners to leverage one another’s strengths.