We face a lot of problems. More than we think, in some ways (less than we think in others). In fact, we face so many problems that just trying to solve them has become a full-time job. Problem solving has become our purpose in life. We are putting out fires, greasing squeaky wheels. Almost everything we do is an attempt to solve a problem, sometimes by preventing it from happening.
That being said, the way we approach our problem solving will have a massive impact on the kind of life we live. Some of us want to eliminate problems as quickly as possible. Some of us just want to deny they are real and we spend our lives pretending they aren’t there. Some of us are obsessed with problems and, although we pretend we abhor them, we do our damndest to find more and more of them.
What is best? How should we approach problems? How should we think about problems? The way we answer these questions will guide us into either more or less effectiveness.
Recognizing Problems and Controlling Emotions
In the very beginning of Genesis, God gives human beings the responsibility of naming the animals.
Naming is an important part of solving our problems. What is a problem and what isn’t? Why is it a problem (or not)? Recognizing the truth of the circumstances is the first step toward resolving them.
When problems make themselves known, our first response is usually emotional. Our emotions are designed as alarm clocks. To let us know something important is going on.
But our emotions do not name our problems. And they certainly don’t solve them. They tell us something is up, but they don’t name what it is. That requires deeper thinking. When we talk about “controlling our emotions”, what we really mean is not trusting them unconditionally. And not reacting to them without first considering the truth behind them.
When we encounter a problem, our first instinct is to resolve it quickly. The way to do this is to reinforce existing patterns and predispositions. If we can get this issue to reinforce a currently-held position, we can quickly resolve it as something we “already know” and move on with just another armament in an already crowded arsenal of our familiar perspective.
Most of us are busy “solving” problems by transforming them into something that fits into our carefully constructed, reinforced, and protected narratives. Ironically, our world is becoming increasingly angry and violent because we simply cannot understand why someone else’s storehouses (and thus their approach to solving problems) might be different than our own.
If we are seeking to reinforce our previously held positions, we can take any number of tactics. Shame and belittle. Monger up some fear. Invent some narratives. Throw a tantrum (and all other sorts of ways to bully or manipulate our problem into bowing to our will).
The issue with this approach is twofold: first, it tends to create more problems than it solves. This default approach is a problem. So, when it finds other problems, rather than solving them, it procreates and you get a bunch of little problems running around. If you don’t learn from this, you are doomed to repeat it and soon you’ve got problems reproducing at an exponential rate.
The second issue with this approach is that it denies the beauty of others. It views “them” (defined as anyone who does not hold my predispositions) as an obstacle rather than as an opportunity.
Problem solving, in its best form, is about truth seeking. It is about asking yourself what is true and how can I align with it rather than asking yourself what feels good or what do I want to be true. Problem resolution is about naming the truth behind the issue and working with others to figure out how to move the dial toward betterment. Sometimes you’ll have the answer and sometimes “they” will. But the real growth is in the synergy that happens when we come together in humility trying to understand with greater accuracy how the world works and why.