The problem with problems:
PROBLEMS ARE EASY.
Easy to find, easy to create, and easy to spread.
The world is full of problems. So why be the person that feels the need to highlight them wherever you go? There is no glory in it. There’s no reward. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do, so why take it upon yourself to be that person?
When people want bad news, all they have to do is turn on the television. After all, there are stations devoted to it 24/7.
“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news… and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” — Peter McWilliams (reposted from: Day 184: A tough pill to swallow.)
“But I must point out the problems so they get fixed!”
If all you’re doing is pointing out problems — problems with the government, problems with the economy, problems with your job market, problems with customer service, problems with the environment, problems with [insert any number of countless problems here], are you really doing anything to effectively alleviate those problems? Or are you simply taking it upon yourself to point out problems and hoping that someone else fixes them?
Pointing out problems doesn’t fix problems. Solutions fix problems.
There is a difference between drawing attention to a cause that needs attention, and simply pointing out problems. Causes are solution-oriented, not problem-focused.
Pointing out a problem without having a real purpose or goal for doing so is just a complaint. When was the last time you saw someone who enjoyed listening to complaints?
Even just changing your message from, “I have a problem!” to “I have a problem and I want to fix it.” changes your tone, implies there is a purpose for your message and invites a discussion for solutions.
“If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out… Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” – Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Showing up to a space and shouting, “How can you be happy when there are people starving in the world!?”, getting upset with people who don’t want to hear your message, and then disappearing to spread your dread somewhere else helps no one. It’s not a discussion, it’s a declaration of a problem that only creates a sense of dread in others, which in turn, creates another problem.
I did just say creating problems was easy, didn’t I?
You are much more likely to inspire the positive change you seek by:
1. continually setting the example you wish see and —
2. getting people talking through the logical discussion of ideas — which also brings with it the opportunity to attach potential solutions to your message and —
3. focusing on progress, not perfection.
“There are people starving in the world and I’ve been thinking a lot about how and why this problem was created in the first place or why it continues to exist…”
will likely yield a better reception than,
“How can you be happy when there are people starving in the world!?”
By practicing the above three strategies, you will be much more effective eliciting positive change, be more inspiring in doing so, and be better received as a result, than you ever will simply being the person who is the bearer of bad news all the time.
Remember, people are much more likely to follow an example being set than they will simply follow someone’s opinion.
If you must be the person to point out problems, before you do so, at least ask yourself “What is my purpose in doing this and what change do I hope to elicit because of it?” — “Am I just pointing out this problem because it’s easy, or am I making an effort to solve it?”. With these questions in mind, you will be better able to formulate your message so it meets your goal.
There will always be problems in this world. But there will also always be progress. You can be a part of that progress by being solution-oriented instead of problem-focused and being an active problem solver, not a problem pointer-outer.
How to approach a problem:
Ask questions. What is the true source of the problem? Is the problem truly the problem, or is it simply a reaction to another problem? When or where did the problem start? How can this problem be alleviated? What can I do to aid in the reduction or total eradication of this problem?
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” – Henry Ford
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama
“I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act” – Bill Gates
“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” – John F. Kennedy
“The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” – Jack Sparrow