Simple Solutions

Have you ever noticed it is so much easier to solve other people’s problems than your own? I was contemplating that fact the other day, wondering why it was so. My answer to myself (yes, I do talk to myself a lot) was something along the lines of, “D’uh! You eliminate the complicated parts!” Ah yes, the complicated parts like values and internal rules and inertia, and, of course, the living with the consequences! When asked what I think of a given situation, I know that I use myself as the one having to make the decision in similar circumstances. When it’s for someone else and I don’t have to live with the consequences, it is amazing how quickly I can formulate an answer and firmly believe I am right.

In speech, there was an H.L. Mencken quote that was way overused and completely accurate for this situation: For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.

A while back Jon Acuff had a blog post entitled, “Why do Friends attack your dream,” in which he used the analogy of crabs in a bucket.

One crab will jump and reach the edge of the bucket and start pulling himself out, only to be dragged back down by one of his fellow captives. If the worked together, most of them could escape, but that isn’t what happens.

That reminded me of during the short window between when I decided to move to England and when I actually did. I was surprised that not everyone was as excited about my moving abroad, and many tried to talk me out of it.

The Acuff article said that this is not the results of what was said to friends and family members, but rather what they heard. Everything goes through a filter. When someone’s priorities are different than your own, instinctively we feel that either their priorities are wrong or that they are criticizing ours.

I’m not so sure I buy into all of that. I think most of the resistance I encountered was a response to something completely unexpected from me, especially at a time when I was quite vulnerable. If I were to tell people now that I was moving abroad, the reaction would be very supportive. It’s now in their heads that that is something I do.

Are all simple solutions to complex problems wrong? When have you had to change what other people expect from you?

4 thoughts on “Simple Solutions”

  1. Interesting, and thought provoking as well–as usual! I think the more accurate statement is probably that not as many problems are as complicated as people think they are. We add a lot of ‘stuff’ to a problem that doesn’t need to be there and makes trying to solve it more complicated.

    As far as what motivates others to do or say anything, I do think the answer is in how they perceive a situation, so I guess that’s in line with what Acuff said about filters. I know a guy who perceives that he is being bullied every time someone jokes around with him ‘locker room’ style. As a result he often quits jobs or organisations because he often feels he has been bullied. The same things he thinks of as bullying I know another guy who thinks is all part of life and working with other men. Their perception is different (their filters let in different info) and so their experience and their comments on their experience will be different.

    I completely disagree that all simple slutions to complex problems are wrong. You’ve heard of Occam’s Razor? “Simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones.” The same can be applied to solutions to probems. To a point 😉 Sometimes we need complex answers to address all levels of the problem, but perhaps only if the problem truly is complex and not embroidered into complexity by our perceptions…


    1. Michelle, Thank you so much for your insight! I liked your spin: I do think we make things more complicated than they have to be.

      I think I know your bullied friend, or at least his twin! I had a friend for a while who was personally offended anytime anyone expressed an opinion. Ages before he had heard that it was rude to do that because other people might have a different view and stating something contradictory would put them in an awkward position. You can probably see why that friendship did not last long.

      Thank you for adding Occam’s Razor to the conversation! It is the perfect counterpart to Mencken. I wish I had known about it in debate!!!!!


  2. What a great post, Tammy. So much to think about. I’m thinking I need to chnge a bit of what my grown kids expect from me lately. Or maybe it goes the other way. I need to change the way I think about them. Feeling a bit unappreciated. Feel a bit like releasing even a bit more. We have to keep doing it. And I love the insight you shared in your omment that others would be, perhaps more supportive of you living overseas now bcause it’s in their mindset of “Tammy” now. That’s true in so many instances. You ‘re right too in your saying that we can so much more easily come up with answers and solutions when we won’t be the ones living with the consequences. I also think most solutions are pretty simple but our fears and doubts bring in the complexities.


    1. It must be such a hard transition – figuring out how to parent adult children. What should the roles be? How do you communicate what is desired? Obviously I had this transition as the young adult, but heck, when one is college age, we’re all oblivious to things like that … at least I was.

      Hopefully your kids will see you as the vibrant, creative, bike-riding woman that you are, and notice that you still would love for them to call and include you in their lives from time to time.


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