Thursday, January 21, 2016

What's your problem?

What's  your problem?

An idea from a non-fiction book I read a long time ago, has stayed with me. I don't remember the title or even enough of the book to search it out online. What I do remember is the author's assertion that what separates man from beast is the human ability to create problems.

I had to read that pronouncement several times, because I'd been under the impression that it was the human ability to solve problems, not create problems, that sets us apart from the apes.

However, the author went on to explain that if an ape were out traveling and came to a rushing river, his journey would simply end. Humans, on the other hand, would see the river as a problem and set about to build a boat or a bridge or devise some way to cross that river and continue their journey.

So, yes--mankind does solve problems, but not before perceiving them.  We do not just trust to Mother Nature, or chance, or whatever-gods-there-may-be as we travel through life. We do not just accept things as we find them. We do not fall back on instinctual, ingrained behaviours to make it through life.

We change things, move mountains, build bridges, explore Mars, and land on the moon. We invent false teeth and kidney dialysis, discover how to use penicillin and insulin, and learn to perform heart transplants. We create smart phones and tablets and eBooks.

Our ability to identify problems and then solve them has indeed enabled human beings to achieve wondrous things. And I thank the author for pointing that out to me.

But that isn't the reason this concept has stuck with me all these decades. The importance to me is that although I am able to perceive problems, I don't have to. Not every river needs to be crossed, not every obstacle needs to be overcome. I don't have to 'create' problems in order to survive.

To us worriers especially, it is empowering to realize problem-creating and problem-solving are optional tasks, We'd do well to be selective about what things we identify as problems and save our energy to tackle things that will be of benefit to ourselves and mankind.

We should be willing to release our worries when they become overwhelming and trust, as the monkeys do, that the universe is a safe place and we can survive quite fine on this side of the river.

Eileen Schuh, Author


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