Thursday, May 13, 2010

Solving Problem Solving

A friend of mine has endured a series of disabling muscle tears, and at this point is having trouble getting around. It's all completely mysterious; he's been to doctor after doctor, but no one can figure out what's causing this.

The other day, I asked whether he's tried stretching out. He replied that he's been doing so all his life, so, no, that's not the problem. It's not a matter of tightness. I pushed a bit further, asking exactly what sort of stretching he's been doing. His eyes brightened, and he eagerly explained his method: he stretches each muscle to the point of pain. And then he stretches it a bunch more.

I stared at him, slack-jawed. And didn't make a peep. I just let his words reverberate, figuring he'd hear them for himself, slap his forehead in realization, and the problem would be identified and immediately corrected. And so I waited. And waited some more. But his forehead remained unslapped.

Finally, I stated the obvious, as gently as I could. But my friend wasn't listening. His eyes were unfocused, he was somewhere else. I tried to restate my point from a different tack, and he remained in a fuzzy, half-listening fugue state. I could also see that he was growing annoyed. Something about truth annoys people. He wagged his head, "no" at me, testily. "I've been following this stretching regimen for years without any problem." I decided it wouldn't help to point out that it appears his lucky streak had finally ended.

So I dropped it. And muscle tears keep on plaguing him. The mystery continues.

Speaking of plaguing, this is exactly the scenario that has always driven me nuts. And, like all scenarios that drive us nuts, it keeps repeating. Over and over and over again. Like Groundhog Day, I find myself being run through the deja vu until I eventually get it right. "Problem? Hey, I thought of a solution!" "No, shut up." "Oh, ok...sorry." Cut. Try again! "Problem? Hey, would you consider listening to a possible solution!" "No, shut up." "Oh, ok...sorry."

And, just to ensure maximal irony: as I relive this endless Groundhog Day, I find myself growing more and more skilled at problem solving. It's sort of a gift, I suppose. But I can't use it much, because people fall in love with their problems and actively stave off solution. Fixing stuff requires change, and change is scary. It also requires acknowledging that one's previous approach was wrong, and that's way too humbling for most people.

Which I don't get at all. I've always loved having my wrongness illuminated for me. All the better to become ever more smugly right.

See this follow-up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"because people fall in love with their problems"

This is so true! And I know I've been guilty of this at times. I identify with a problem so much that letting go of it feels like a piece of ME is being ripped away. This is always the first hurdle to overcome when CHANGE rears its frightening head. Later I find out that it wasn't frightening at all, just unknown.

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