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Problem Solving

How can we get rid of our hang ups and irrationalities?

I will illustrate two approaches. The first is smashing them with a hammer, which hurts. The second is disassembling them with a screwdriver, which is wiser.

We need an example of a hang up. We'll use an overwhelming need to feed broccoli to cows.

The hammer approach is something like: burn all broccoli in a bonfire. Problem "solved". Of course, this will hurt because the problem isn't solved, you just can't do it anymore. It's no more fun than being "helped" by being chained to the wall.

Worse is the sledgehammer approach. Burn the broccoli, never go near a cow, and self-administer an electric shock whenever you think of feeding cows broccoli. Follow up with a 12 step process: First, admit you have a problem. Second, submit your soul to Allah. And so on

But what about using a screwdriver? Well, now it's important to consider if feeding cows is actually a problem. Why should it be? People feed bread to ducks all the time and the world doesn't end. We should think about why this is a problem, and to whom, and to ask ourselves if there is some simple solution. And if there isn't, there could be a temporary fix. Maybe the problem is only looming in the future and we'll get tired of feedings before it ever arrives. Or maybe we will be happy to go a day without if we spend that day at disney land, or feeding ducks. And after that day, maybe we'll have another solution for the next day. And after that, the next. And maybe our mindset will change during this time allowing a new solution to the original problem.

Here are some other ways we might avoid any serious self-analysis or change (allowing us to direct our creativity and attention to other, more important issues, of which there are plenty):

Maybe the broccoli purchases are hurting your budget. But in this case it may be far easier to get a raise at work than to face your irrationality.

Maybe a farmer has complained and wants you to leave his cows alone. Well, you could make the whole problem go away by buying your own cow.

Maybe the cows are smelly and this bothers you, and nose plugs would resolve everything. Or a policy of showering immediately afterwards.

But OK, let's assume you want to stop -- the feeding is causing you some problem that's hard to get rid of. Now what? Well, it depends on your reasons for wanting to feed the cow.

If you believe cows love broccoli and you're helping them, you might stop after reading some books and discovering that cows prefer grass.

If you believe cows hate broccoli and enjoy pestering them, you might stop after reading some books and discovering that cows hate arsenic more, or hate being tipped over. (Note: cow tipping is actually an urban legend.)

Perhaps you consider a spotted cow, standing in a picturesque grass field, eating ripe broccoli to be a wonderful sight. You might paint the scene for a keepsake and see no point in returning.

Perhaps your parents always told you not to feed broccoli to cows and you're defying them. You might stop when you consider that you're still living in their dynamic. The only way to be truly free of them is to stop thinking so much about what they care about, like whether or not cows eat broccoli.

Or maybe your parents said it's wrong to feed cows and you feel guilty. Then you might do well to recognize that the reason you want to continue feeding is probably that, due to guilt, you've never properly and fully explored your cow interest and you still have lingering curiosity which tempts you back time and time again. But never do you really let loose and feed the cows however you want, so your desire never abates. You might resolve this by going for it, and getting it out of your system. Or you might resolve it by studying and refuting all your parents arguments so that your guilt leaves you.

So be optimistic. Solutions are easy to come by. If we can brainstorm so many generic solutions about an absurd scenario, surely there should be even more options available in the rich tapestry of a real life.

Elliot Temple on May 12, 2007

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