The Problem is the Solution

There’s nothing more natural than being quick to judge others, especially when they make a mistake or do something we don’t approve of. How could you do this?! What were you thinking!? This is all your fault!

But behind every frustrating act is an opportunity to learn.

If you’re a deli owner, and you see a crowd of people bunched up at the check-out area, it’s easy to judge them for not forming a straight line. Or you can see this as evidence that your store was unclear about where to stand. The customers are pointing out what you need to improve, whether it’s marking the floor or changing the checkout location.

If you’re a lawyer and a client isn’t listening to you, you can yell at them for being irrational and foolish. But the client is really telling you to speak more clearly. Behavior that causes anger and frustration is not evidence of something wrong, it’s pointing to something right — a solution hiding in plain sight.

The truth is this: everyone does things for a reason. We can either judge them for that or take it as an opportunity to learn and empathize.

Actions that offend us are often solutions to deeper problems.

Take drugs or alcohol. For many, drugs are not the problem. Using is a solution to a deeper problem for which a temporary high may appear to be the only answer. The solution is no doubt imperfect, but simply criticizing the behavior masks vital lessons for addressing the root cause problems, like depression or joblessness.

Take sleepy teenagers. Teenagers who miss the school bus because they slept through their alarms are easy to paint as lazy. But they’re not. Their bodies are properly responding to something they need more than anything: sleep. Sleep is critical and their craving for more is healthy to functioning well intellectually. Many teenagers snooze their alarms, sleep during first period, and nod off in math class. Calling them lazy feels natural, but it doesn’t help. This “problem” holds solutions to the real root issues, like changing the school day or norms around napping.

It’s easier to get mad than to get curious. But I’m learning to hold my tongue and think, how interesting, the world is telling me something.

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