PROBLEMS WITH PEOPLE
“Problem” is not a scary word for me. To my favorite math teacher, Mr. Patillo at Pampa Junior High, a problem was just one step toward a solution, like eight plus seven. “Problem? No Problem!”
We meet problems as soon as we are born. We get wet, we scream and someone changes us. We get hungry, we scream and a person feeds us. We wake up afraid and someone comes to soothe and hum a tune as we walk about the house or they rock us to sleep. Wow! How great life is! Solving problems is simple and always rewarded. We feel lonely – we scream . . . here they come again!
Or so it seems.
As we grow problems can be as small as an itch or as painful as a piece of meat in the space between two teeth. If it’s an itch we scratch it. The agony can be so distracting the simplest solutions escape us – we can’t immediately consider a trip to the restroom with a piece of paper, a finger nail (discretely applied of course), or a piece of floss – we just HURT! Some problems hit you like a truck. The solution may be clear, but you may face several complex processes before you are whole again – or you may never be who you used to be, forced to learn new skills to accommodate limitations.
Humans are very bright. We begin very early to build a repertoire of skills to solve our problems. My parents used to laugh in family gatherings about how early I learned to communicate my dissatisfaction with drinking from a bottle. I bit hard, pulled the nipple out and dumped the contents on the floor. To deal with boredom, I learned to slide down to freedom between the wall and the side of the crib. I learned to make a ladder very early to climb the kitchen cabinet to get to the cookie jar on the top shelf. Vengeance came when my youngest almost duplicated the coronary-inducing stunt in her bedroom before she was two, making a ladder of her chest-of-drawers to watch her dad on a ladder out the highest bedroom window.
It’s not surprising to a parent how quickly their child increases problem-solving ability. Children explore and learn so rapidly they consume much of a young parent’s day. The parent tries to keep up with the child’s development, messes and protect them from places too risky for them. Infants get our attention when they are hungry . . . until they don’t. Then the toddler, as if by magic, identifies the food places, how to by pass or avoid the security systems to crack the most sophisticated child-proofing technology to find that half a cantaloupe, chocolate bar, cookie, or cereal box. They come to believe we have eyes in the back of our heads, completely unaware of the massive amounts of evidence they leave behind. We reinforce their criminal behavior by our boasts and laughter to our best friends as we wipe the evidence off faces, hands, cookie jars and refrigerator shelves. A child learns at a phenomenal rate how to: identify their problem, explore and find a number of ideas or options to solve it, design and execute an effective plan, adjust the strategy along the way to overcome unforeseeable obstacles and enjoy the rewards of his or her efforts.
We learn these skills in ever more complex situations. Solving a problem does not cause us much concern at all until our mind fails to envision a solution, our skills fail to resolve the problem, or we can’t successfully enlist someone else with the needed skills to help us. Solving the problem of relationship and solving problems in relationships may be the tallest mountain we climb – and will take up a lot more space than we have for this post.
More on that next time.