The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The what-I-want-problem

Numerous problems don’t qualify as addressable problems.

Discomfort or undesired situation is simply an automatic evaluation of a situation. Labeling it as a problem is based on the idea that the situation may be solved according to one’s desires.

For toddlers this is true. They send out signals about their discomfort and parents then try to jump in to solve the problem. In doing so, adults teach their children what is causing the discomfort and how it can be solved. They succeed in doing so when there is a problem that can be solved. In other situations, the toddler learns that in some situations desires don’t receive a satisfying answer.

As adults that same discrimination remains necessary. What one wants, will neither be accessible in the moment nor the future. Sticking to the hope that a magical solution may reappear, people perceive a problem in situations in which what they want doesn’t happen.

In his last newsletter, Oliver Burkeman shared a principle in ethical philosophy helping to assess the situation. It is originating with Immanuel Kant and says: “Ought implies can”.

It invites to only feel responsible to solve problems that are within our ability. It is choosing to see what one can do about the problem and act accordingly.

That this isn’t exactly what is happening is visible every day. People decide to vent about the political situation, the neighbor who isn’t behaving as expected, or the boss who isn’t changing the work from home policy to one’s convenience. They are discussing problems others are responsible for.

There is nothing wrong with venting. But it helps to know that the energy used to vent is used in the hope that one’s discomfort may then disappear.

While it can be wonderful to discuss how to change the world, it is also useful to remember that the only thing we are responsible for and can change in these moments is our mood.


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