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Sometimes There Are No Easy Answers

August 16, 2021

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Sometimes there are no easy answers. In life, we’re all looking for the silver bullet. The one thing that will make everything else easier or solvable. However, life is more complicated than that. Rarely are there simple solutions to complex problems. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for simple solutions wherever we can, but it shouldn’t be our only approach.  We need to be humble enough to know that some things are beyond our grasp and require significant effort.

We are living in interesting times. External events are having a significant impact on our daily lives. Whether it’s the COVID pandemic, global warming, simmering political discontent, underlying racial tension, or a volatile economic environment, it feels like there are many forces trying to pull us apart and make life more difficult.  It helps to accept the fact that yes, life is sometimes difficult.  No one operates in a bubble devoid of outside influences or consequences.  To quote the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want…”

Instead of hoping there’s some easy answer through the election of a political candidate, overestimating the knowledge of a talking head, or blaming someone else and hoping the problem goes away, we should step back and think things through a bit more.  We need to “own” our problems if we want to solve them.  And owning them means doing the work to fully understand what has happened and why and fully exploring our options for resolution. If humankind has proved anything it is our capacity to fix things after we have made a mess of them. We all must inhabit the same space so why not work together to make it better?  Does it really have to get to such a bad place before forcing us to act responsibly?

When you rely on science for your survival it doesn’t make sense to be anti-science. It also doesn’t help to be overly critical of the imperfection of science when it’s approaching unfamiliar problems. Science, like life in many ways, is a “learn as you go” process. When you are dealing with human lives caution is always the preferred strategy.  Anyone can criticize looking in the rearview mirror. What’s more important is where we are going and how we get there.  There is and always will be value in expertise, we should embrace this concept.  It’s okay not to take everything at face value, but don’t do it out of sport or intellectual laziness.

Under pressure, many of us shut down and close off to new ideas. It seems much safer to just listen to people who validate what we already believe rather than wade into the discomfort of having our preconceived notions challenged. The world is a complex place. No one has all the answers. We are constantly encountering new information.  In this environment, it’s critical that we adjust and adapt as the situation changes. There is no one ideology, philosophy, religion, or person who will be the guide for you through this journey. We must be open to new thinking or the problems we confront may become beyond us.

Unfortunately, it is much easier for people to be “anti” something rather than “pro” something. If I don’t fully understand the situation or have the answers myself, it’s much easier to be critical of someone else who has more certainty or clarity.  It bothers me that so many of us are much more willing to snipe at others’ work, than step into the arena ourselves.  At a minimum, we should all strive to gain a better understanding of situations or problems before jumping to conclusions or embracing strong opinions. If we don’t know what we are talking about, then we should listen to the people who do know.  And taking a nihilistic attitude that you can’t believe anything you hear from anyone is a road that leads to nowhere good.

I also believe that consensus has gotten a bad rap. For whatever reason, as a society, we seem more interested in forcing the argument than finding the solution. In a free and democratic society, people need to negotiate and compromise to find common ground.  If you dig your heels in just because you can or have philosophical differences with the other side, then what does that ever truly accomplish – NOTHING. In evolutionary terms, long-term stasis leads to extinction.

When you run a business, it’s obvious that you can’t act like a dictator and just tell everyone what to do all the time. This may work for a brief period, but you will quickly bump up against what you don’t know or can’t do. You need to rely on other people. What you quickly learn is you must leverage the knowledge, experience, and diversity of thinking of those around you and sometimes even defer to their perspective. This is how life should work. I’m all for a good debate when debating is productive. However, sometimes prolonged debating is counterproductive. Just look at our Congress.

The fact is that sometimes there are no easy answers in life.  It’s just the way it is.  Countries, states, communities, organizations, businesses, and families all must deal with difficulties beyond their capacity to grasp (and initially respond to) at times.  Believe it or not, this can even be a good thing.  This is how we grow and make progress.   If life were too simple, it wouldn’t be so rewarding. It’s through addressing adversity that we grow as human beings. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” What I do believe is that every effort put forth towards becoming smarter, better, more resilient, and situationally adaptive only increases our chances of survival.

It feels like we are at a critical juncture in history.  I’m sure many people have authored similar essays at various times feeling the same way.  Of course, all I can truly feel is what I have or am experiencing at any given time.  While the past experiences of others are informative, they have minimal lasting emotional resonance for any of us in the present.  And it’s an emotion that leads to actions both good and bad.  I have no doubt that we are collectively capable of solving the problems that come our way.  The only way to survive a crisis or challenge is to first accept that it exists, and then work TOGETHER towards finding the strength and wisdom to identify options and implement the best solutions. We need to turn our emotions into positive collective action rather than divisive, petty, ill-informed behavior.  The challenge or difficulty we overcome (or not) is what will define us.


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