We live in a hyperspeed world, where problems discovered this morning should be solved by tonight. It’s our societal mindset: Have a problem, fix it – and fast. We aren’t groomed to sit with problems. We aren’t comfortable living with them as they resolve or at least clarify themselves. And, I wonder, why the rush? Certainly, emergencies require swift and decisive action, but does every problem need to be addressed? And does everything we are uncomfortable with truly qualify as a problem?
If you step back for a broader view, you’ll notice there are giant global economic and political problems that have been around for centuries. The BIG problems, like poverty, hunger, human rights violations, apartheid, refugees, fascist regimes, to name just a few. These problems are so ominous that they’ve become part of the landscape. Their complexity requires a historian or social scientist to unearth their origins, let alone fix them. And, so, maybe that is why the problems we encounter in our day-to-day lives, the ones that are insignificant in the larger scheme of things, are the ones we are eager to fix.
Alexander Pope wrote in 1711 that “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” That famous line from his poem “An Essay on Man” may be a bit abstract to the modern-day thinker, but the idea still makes sense: Things are the way they are for a reason and we have no business fixing them to suit our own liking. That’s probably true, but then, why are so many of us so uncomfortable with the natural order of things? Think about the many times humans have rushed in to fix a problem, only to make it worse. We spend our lives fixing problems. The typical to-do list so many of us keep is really just a list of problems we believe need our attention.
My dad had a philosophy that I will paraphrase as “Not all problems need solving.” He knew that some problems are meant to be accepted. What if in your own life, you viewed the things that feel like urgent and nagging problems a little differently? What if you didn’t have to solve them but rather chose to learn to live with them as well as with the discomfort they may bring?
It worked for my dad. Over time, many problems he faced resolved themselves — and the ones that remained, he learned to live with and accept. And, in doing so, he grew and developed a way of being that was calm and content. I saw it first-hand: He accepted his circumstances. When we don’t rush in, problems can become an opportunity to grow as a person. Moving through discomfort forces us to develop, and most of us could use a bit more development. But how do we choose which problems need our attention and which we should let lie? How do we know which problems to address and which to accept? If you are uncertain, I think there’s a clear rule of thumb. Problems that hold us back from carrying out our responsibilities, either for ourselves or our families, must be addressed. That’s our social responsibility, and that’s an important distinction — accountability.
With that attuned acceptance comes peace and less anxiety, a more stable state of mind and coherence. When we are no longer fools rushing in, we become wiser, more thoughtful thinkers. Imagine a universally calmer way of being trickling down through a few generations. Maybe then, humanity will develop the ability to resolve some of the big global problems. If you see value in this idea, next time you bump up against a problem and the natural need to resolve it starts to well up, don’t rush in. Stop and consider for a moment: Is this really a problem, or is it an opportunity for me to rise and grow to accept the way things are
Lately, I’ve been traveling to faraway and exotic cities, walking new streets and pathways, discovering. Each place has its own foods, smells, sounds, textures and patterns — yes, patterns. We take them for granted normally in our rush to get from one place to another, but travel can allow us to slow down and notice the details.
In the stunning city of Lisbon, I noticed a myriad of patterns. The buildings, homes and sidewalks all boast unique patterns that, stitched together, make up a beautiful city and a place that people call home.
And in those beautiful surroundings it occurred to me that, although far less visible, the lives we live are woven from the day-to-day patterns we choose — and that a lifetime really is just a long series of repetitive patterns. All the days that make up our lives are spent engaging in patterns — patterns that are disguised as habits, choices, preferences and behaviors. They all add up to define that one and only life we get on this earth.
Given Lisbon’s lasting beauty, the craftsmen and artisans who built it must have taken great care to create beautiful, intentional patterns that could stand the test of time. And, so I wonder, do we humans work as carefully to design the patterns of our lives? Since we are building our lives, one pattern at a time, shouldn’t those patterns be carefully crafted so that they, too, can stand the test of time. Our language is filled with phrases hinting that we do not. We’ve all heard of “bad habits,” and we know that most marriages can easily “fall” into dysfunctional patterns. Such language implies that we have no choice in the matter.
Breaking bad habits is difficult, I agree. But what if it’s not a matter of breaking a habit. What if it’s a matter of slowing down to notice our patterns. Perhaps if we can see them clearly and objectively, we might be inspired to exercise our free will, our intentionality, and choose to design our patterns and, by extension, design the life we really want. When patterns are not haphazard or developed as a result of comfort and ease, but rather with intentionality and design, they tend to serve us better. After all, patterns that are developed without design are likely to produce less-than-ideal outcomes.
It’s something to think about in your daily routines: What patterns have you developed? Which ones are well designed and leading toward the outcome you desire? And, more importantly, which ones are leading you to a place you don’t really want to be? Take a close look and notice. Decide which patterns can be shed and which need to be re-designed.
After all, a house pieced together without a plan is simply a shack. What is it that you want to build with this limited time on earth that is your life?