Monday, June 8, 2009

Which problem are you solving?

In a book about permaculture, I once read a story of a gardener who was being driven to distraction by the slugs & snails eating his crop.  He tried everything he could think of, and then went to his mentor in despair.  The mentor looked carefully around at his garden, then said: "Your problem is not an oversupply of snails, its an under-supply of ducks".  The gardener bought a couple of ducks, and they ate the snails and slugs (and incidentally, fertilized the garden). The problem was solved, but only when the correct problem was identified.

Lately, I have been charmed – and humbled – by the many opportunities life affords us, of checking our assumptions about what the problem is.

Is the problem that you're being difficult? Or is that I'm being controlling?

Is the problem that other people won't give me what I need? Or is the problem that I don't action on my own behalf?

Is the problem that other people can be so inconsiderate? Or is the problem that I am not maintaining my own boundaries, and saying "No" when appropriate?

Is the problem that I don't have "enough" money? Or is the problem that I resist following my dreams due to false or outdated information and beliefs?

Is the problem that everyone is blaming me for what went wrong? Or is the problem that I secretly feel guilty, and so I'm hearing the feedback as negative and blaming?

There's a knack to seeing what is going on from a different angle, but its one we can all develop.  I once watched a child trying to write, resting their notebook on the seat of a chair.  "This pen doesn't work!" she cried.  I looked closely at what she was doing, and said, "The pen is fine, your book has slipped out and is hanging off the end of the chair seat, and so the pen hasn't got anything to push against."  I slid the book back on the chair, and this time the pen worked.  I wonder how many pens that child would have gone through, before she saw what was really going on?  Chances are, the more times the pen "didn't work", the more frustrated she would be.  So now whenever I get really frustrated by a problem, I try to stop myself and ask: 

"What am I not seeing here?"  Am I seeing too many slugs, or not enough ducks?  Am I seeing a broken pen, or a bad writing surface?

Think about a problem in your life that frustrates you:  could there be something you are not seeing?