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No problems, only situations

October 17, 2006

What constitutes a problem? 

I think most people are familiar the Jamaican outlook on life.    All during our stay, the “no problem” philosophy was repeated.  From the bus drivers and luggage porters, to the photographer at our wedding, to the servers and stewards in the restaurants, all the islanders repeated the “no problem” mantra.   It was explained to me several times, that there were no problems, but only situations.

A situation sounds like just the facts or the circumstance at hand.  It’s dispassionate, and seems descriptive of a rather small thing.   Why do we worry?  When does a situation become a problem?   Because we judge it so.   I reflected upon several occurrences during the trip where I was told my worries weren’t a problem, but only a situation. 

For example: During the wedding, and the following photo shoot, I perspired heavily in the hot Jamaican  sun, and the photographer would blot my face and head with a towel between pictures.  I apologized for him having to do this.  He said “no problem”.    It was a problem to me.  Why?  Because I was embarrassed.  Because I didn’t want to be seen this way, and I felt indebted to this fellow for having to blot my head with a towel.   It wasn’t a problem for him – he had to do this for everyone.  It was only a problem to me.  I began to think about my circumstances for the last several months – the angst of the construction project.  I had seen it as crisis – a  huge end of the my world problem to solve.  Those who followed my posts understand where I was.  Really, it was just a set of circumstances, of tasks to complete.  If the circumstances required, further negotiations and pursuit of alternatives would have been required.  But they weren’t.  So why did I worry?  Why was it all such a big problem to me?   Emotion – >  Fear.

It seems that we are emotionally attached to so much in life, our expectations of how things should unfold, how we are seen and perceived – what we believe people think of us, and how we judge ourselves.   If we could retrain ourselves not to do even those things, then we could be much more free.  Unburdened of these self imposed constraints, suddenly we would have a lot more choices in how we could act in life, and perhaps we would be happier for it.

Large or small, how do you define a problem?  Why is it a problem?  

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2006 2:33 pm

    I would define a problem as anything that makes me worry or anxious. A problem to me is a source of great concern or distress. I, too, am trying to bring home a sense of peace and serenity like I felt in Jamaica. I discovered that by adjusting my attitude, I am able to better manage my feelings and reactions to situations. I like myself better and I think I will be easier to be around. Some people here in the United States may define this attitude as uncaring but I see it as a smarter way to live.

  2. October 20, 2006 8:57 am

    Mark, great post. This is one of those “get everyone thinking” topics. This will be an interesting one to look at in the Chinese culture…so I’ll jot it down & revisit it sometime soon.

    As for me, I define a problem as something that is going to or does affect me personally…. something that will upset me, make me look bad, make me angry, etc… I guess that’s the way most people define a problem, you described it better.

    btw…I have a sweating problem 🙂

  3. October 20, 2006 4:42 pm

    Mike, Leslie, Thanks for your thoughts. Blogs are generally one way, but knowing that your message was heard and that it elicited a thought or action in another validates the author. This helps tremendously, to know that maybe something you said was worthwhile to the audience. Mike, I’d like to hear how you explore this in the Chinese culture, and hopefully you might post on the matter as well.

  4. Kele Willi permalink
    June 24, 2012 4:06 pm

    Some years later (2012) I discover this post after or king a very stressful convention. One of my colleges would state at different intervals, “We have a major problem!” or “This problem is of gigantic proportions and will take hours to fix.” As he worked on the solutions, one by one they were resolved. One morning he came in and stated, “We have no problems, only situations that require our attention” From then on, similar to the amazing grace I received with salvation, my fears were relieved! There are no problems, only situations that require our attention!


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