Is there such a thing as the anatomy of a problem—the generic case that will help us understand and solve all problems?
A problem has two parts, a desire or aim and something opposing that desire. There has to be two parts, otherwise it is not a problem. Cancer is not a problem if you want cancer, see?
Remember the T-shirt print joke: “I don’t have a drink problem. I drink. I fall over drunk. No problem.” If that’s what you really want, there really is no problem. Excess drinking is only a problem if you want to stop and can’t.
Then there are two parts to the situation: the genuine desire to stop and the overwhelming urge to drink.
Of course we want only good things for ourselves; things that bring happiness and success. So if we have a bad circumstance that’s always a problem, because we want better for ourselves and our loved ones.
This leads to the unfortunate common belief that a “problem” is just one thing—the unwanted half.
That’s not true. It’s a 2-part thing.
Is that important?
Sure, it’s VERY important. Because if we focus on only one thing, we are only including half the input data in our solution.
Not only that, but focusing on the bad half is not the way to go. This is very surprising to people when I coach them. But it’s nevertheless true. We are taught to focus on the “problem” and look for “solutions”
You have a disease—let’s take the cancer example. If you focus only on the tumor, you are probably going to lose! As I said this is a 2-part circumstance. So there’s health on one side and cancer on the other.
Now if you focus on the health side, you can win. Better nutrition, detoxing, emotional clean-up, strengthening the immune system in every which-way are all valid means of re-enforcing what you do want, rather than getting bogged down in what you don’t want.
I’ll come back to this theme of focusing only on what you want again in more detail later. It’s the most powerful way to blow apart problems I know.
In the meantime, just see the basic anatomy of a problem as a composite of an intention (desire, purpose, want) and the conflicting element that blocks it. Both parts have to be present, otherwise there is literally NO PROBLEM!
Take a look at this sketch:
This is the anatomy of a problem, in schematic. It shows the familiar “stuckness” (can’t think what to do, can’t decide which way to jump, feeling of frustration). Oftentimes we think to ourselves “If only I knew what to do, I would do it and get rid of the problem”.
We try to think of actions that will get us round the barrier. That is what we mean by a so-called solution.
But it may not be as simple as that. In fact, if we just look for solutions, we could be digging ourselves deeper into difficulties.
The Solution is another problem.
Something else that is not taught a great deal: most “problems” are actually solutions to things. Somebody wants the problem, surprising though that may seem.
If the “problem” is helpful, it’s going to be next to impossible to “solve” it—because that would create another problem, do you see?
I met a woman once who openly argued that she wanted to be overweight and unattractive, to avoid men pestering her. Problem? No—THIS WAS THE SOLUTION! The problem turned out to be abuse and molestation as a child.
If a woman in a wheelchair controls all those around her, getting sympathy, extra attention and power to dictate her demands, I think a physician or healer is going to have a very hard time looking for ways to solve this woman’s disability. A miraculous new cure that works on many other people may not work on her. Her “problem” is a solution to something that most people cannot manage in their lives—getting their own way all the time.
Let’s not get gender biased and let’s suggest the same idea for a man. Males are notoriously bad at communicating their feelings. Sometimes they are in a great deal of emotional pain but cannot talk about it. So a man turns to drink. His drunken rages and violence are not a problem to him, that’s only a problem to the wife and family. His problem is inner torment and the desire to be rid of it. So he drinks as the solution; drink is not the problem (for him).
That’s why trying to help a drinker can be very unrewarding.
You’re trying to take away his solution, not the actual problem!
So beware in your interpretations.
Brilliant psychologist Virginia Satyr understood this in a powerful way when she developed her specialty of Conjoint Family Therapy. After years of wise intervention in family quarrels and ills, she began to understand that a sick person in a family may be (perceived as) necessary for that family. It was a solution (to something). So when she helped a schizophrenic recover, the gain was often neutralized by the fact that someone else in the family would develop the same affliction.
Exactly as if it was something the whole family needed or wanted. Somehow the “problem” was the solution they needed!
That’s why she decided treating people alone was not really viable. To “cure” someone was often just to make someone else suffer. So she worked on ways to get the whole family to change their dynamic; thus there could be conjoint healing.
Comparison are odious
I encountered this as a keynote philosophy when I was at med school and a passionate investigator of all things Zen! I joined the university judo team and wrote Japanese, zen-style poems (I actually won International 1st prize, an all-expenses paid trip round the world in 1967).
This isn’t the place to go into the whole subject but just the act of flinging out the desire to compare things (and so create dissatisfaction) was a miracle transformation for me.
If you don’t compare and so create wants and deficiencies, you create fewer problems for yourself. If you are broke, it’s not a problem! Not at all!
UNLESS—you want to be richer. Then this meets the anatomy of a problem; there is a want or intention (be wealthy) and a counter-intention or conflict, which is being broke.
If you can accept most things, you’ll have fewer problems. So be tolerant!By the way, this does not mean don’t strive for improvement. It means don’t be discontented with what you’ve got. Just work on it and fix it…
More next issue…