Problems are easy. We see ’em, we hear about ’em, we talk about ’em ad nauseum, but we don’t do anything about them. We sit in coffee shops and bitch about the government or whine about immigrants and foreigners over our pints, and, what seems universal, we complain that the younger generations are never as good as their predecessors. In fact, if you get rid of bitching, whining, and complaining over half of what constitutes conversation in this world would disappear.

I’m going to complain about complaining and bitch about bitching, and I’m going to whine about whining. Enough, I say! We all KNOW what the problems are. I daresay that regardless of where you fall on our increasingly pointless political spectrum you see the same things wrong with the world that I do. You might express them in different terms, and you’ll likely prioritize them differently, but in the end we’ll be in agreement.

You can’t live for more than a few minutes without air. No one wants their air poisoned by pollutants. Everyone wants to trust that the air they breathe is healthy and life-giving. You can’t live for more than a few days without water. No one wants their water contaminated by pollutants. Everyone wants to believe that the water they drink is clean and pure. Tell me we can’t get together on those things. Sure, we’ll disagree on the best way to get those things, but the outcome is the same for all of us. If we focus on the common goal and submerge our egos for a bit we’ll find we can work together. Solutions are possible. Note I said solutions, not solution. No problem worth studying has only one solution.

You can’t live without a food supply. Farms and ranches need to prosper, and our agricultural systems must be sustainable. Our fisheries need husbanding. Who can argue with that? These are enormous challenges—why are we wasting time pointing fingers? Politics is just a game of posturing, of being “right” and the other guys being “wrong.” What a waste of energy! And speaking of energy, who doesn’t need that? We have to have long-term solutions to the rising energy demand. This is not about the “winners” and “losers” in the political landscape. This is a real thing, a real true-to-life problem, and instead of rolling up our sleeves we cling to our talking points and carp at the people we think are against us.

I say to hell with that. I’m not interested in problems. I don’t want to hear anyone whining, bitching, or complaining unless those activities are accompanied by a genuine search for solutions.

We all seek liberty, freedom, and autonomy. We all have to sacrifice some of those things to have stability, harmony, and peace. Our individual needs have to be met, but so do our social ones. We KNOW we have to compromise some of our personal freedoms in order to have order and safety. We can yell and scream about it or we can get together and do it. We are all answerable to each other whether we like it or not. The true sign of maturity is recognizing that certain things in life are true regardless of our feelings. Civilization is like a candle flame, it can be snuffed out easily. When we look at failed states and see the chaos and barbarism we ought to remember that. A civilized society means prosperity for all. Who can argue with that?

Our brains have to be trained, just like our muscles. When we see the world in terms of problems then we will continue to see the world in terms of problems. The only way to see solution paths is to train your brain to do just that: see the paths. The first step is to stop harping on the problems. Like I said, we already know those. It’s the difference between reading and writing. Reading is wonderful, but it is easy, because some one else did the real work. Writing is hard because you have to reach within yourself and create something new. Finding solutions is a hell of a lot harder than defining problems.

One step we could make is to get rid of right and wrong answers. Schools love right and wrong answers. But authentic questions don’t have right and wrong answers. How do we feed the world’s hungry? That’s an authentic question because the solutions are not trivial or obvious. (Beware of people who answer such questions with “It’s very simple, just do . . . ” because such things are NOT simple.) Now I love Jeopardy as much as the next guy, but there’s a reason that stuff is called trivia. Knowing all that stuff is fun, but it’s useless. It’s not in any way a measure of intelligence or intellectual worth.

True intelligence is openness. A worthy mind is one that’s always learning. The more you learn, the more you discover you don’t know. That sort of ignorance is beautiful. When you say “I don’t know” you are opening yourself to new learning. And learning opportunities abound. Confusion, frustration, despair, and bewilderment are all learning opportunities. Who hasn’t felt those things? There’s a ballplayer by the name of Hunter Pence who says amazing things. He suffered a season-ending injury and when asked how he was feeling once the prognosis was clear he said “I’m not upset, I look at this not as a setback but an opportunity.”

Now that’s something! It would be easy in such circumstances to whine, bitch, and complain. But he turned it around and made it a positive. That’s how we invent solutions, by turning the problems into opportunities. It’s not easy to do, it takes effort and persistence, and it requires us to re-wire our brains. But highly accomplished people do that sort of thing routinely. They see doors open up as other ones close.

I make no claim to expertise. And I’m weak. But I’m giving it a shot.

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