Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | January 4, 2014

Shine a Light

It occurs to me that a major reason it’s hard to connect with people about what our problems are and where to look for solutions is that I’m trying alternatives.

To grossly oversimplify, bad stuff interferes with or prevents the good stuff we want. Our attempts to rectify our problems instinctively focus on what we must do about the bad stuff we think causes the problems.

Cool. That’s a natural response, initially. But we’ve been doing that for thousands of years, and look where it’s gotten us.

Chronic problems are not the same as incidental problems. I learned this from chronically dysfunctional people (myself included! 🙂 ) Notice that human dysfunctionality tends to track a narrow range: not quite terminally dysfunctional, but not quite functional, either. Consider a schizophrenic homeless person with no one to care for him. How does he manage to stay connected with reality well enough to survive day after day? He has at least enough mental health to not die.

Or maybe you don’t have to imagine quite so far from home. We’ve all known vampiristic persons who sap the life out of everyone around them, never self-destructing but never escaping their emotional black hole condition. Something keeps them going, ever teetering on the brink of death or destruction. The tightwire act is amazing — or maybe the wire isn’t as precariously thin as it looks.

Indebtedness is another example. Getting into debt is a problem. Going year after year maintaining a rather consistent margin of debt is a habit, not properly a “problem.”

It makes me wonder if we secretly enjoy having problems because they give us something to do.

Chronic problems involve an important factor that’s noticeably missing from incidental problems: tolerance. Zero tolerance induces us either to solve a problem or declare failure — hot or cold. Limping along with a problem over a long period of time shows that we’re OK with it — enough anyway to continue limping along with it — lukewarm. For example, people stuck in abusive situations remain in them precisely because, in the final analysis, they find them tolerable and, presumably, preferable to alternatives. And we know now, after hearing their stories, that their stuckness ended the instant their tolerance did.

So, methinks, what if we looked at that tolerance and the reasons for it? Maybe therein lie the solutions we’ve failed to find for thousands of years.

Funny thing about that approach. The only way to begin investigating problems from that angle is to shine a light on ourselves. Frankly, we suck at that. It requires us to admit our hypocrisy and let go of the lie that we truly wanted to solve our habitual problems, but can’t due to factors beyond our control that force us to limp along with them unsolved. Not unsolved enough to terminate our suffering and us with it, mind you, but not solved enough to end our suffering and rescue us, either. Stuck between rocks and hard places. Catch-22-d. Eternal twilight. Not our faults?

A wise man once wrote that we shouldn’t expect to get what we want as long as we remain double-minded, unstable in our ways. In other words, not until we’ve made up our minds to be intolerant and stop:

  • putting up with what we don’t want
  • doing without what we want

The blunt fact is: we don’t really believe that suffering can be ended, let alone that it will be ended. Why? We love to blame it on bad things and bad people. And we have all kinds of proof, too. But what if the real reason is that we simply haven’t made up our minds to end it?

In fact, I’ve noticed precious little question raised on that point in almost a half century of avid observation. On the contrary, I often get strong, sometimes vehement opposition when I attempt to raise it. And that’s just when I raise it theoretically. You should see how people react when I raise it in fact about practical matters they care about.

“AHA!” methinks. “I’m onto something!” 😀


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