Perception of Problems Prevents Political Progress

Note: my purpose for writing these politically motivated blog posts is not to claim that my perception is the absolute truth, but to present another perception of reality that politicians, the media, and political experts ignore. All I want is for you, the reader, to take a step back and consider another point of view because, in reality, there is no absolute truth, only matters of perception.

The perception of problems prevents political progress.

Not because of the fact that they’re problems – they’re actually not problems at all – but because they are labeled and perceived as problems. Problems are often viewed as obstacles that prevent progress and are, seemingly, outside of our control. However, the only thing that ensures that problems remain problems is our interpretation of them as problems. Have you ever seen a movie that you hated? You could probably name 25 reasons you didn’t like it and not one reason why it was good. Meanwhile, your friend loved the movie and can’t understand why you hate it. When we label something as good, bad, something we love, something we hate, a problem, or an opportunity, we are commanding our brains to only look for supporting facts that prove us right. Then it becomes increasingly difficult to see the other side of the coin. In politics, the problem with seeing something as a problem, and not an opportunity, means the next action taken will be to eliminate the problem. The problem with problems is that preventing or eliminating them, doesn’t create a solution. When you want to lose weight, you don’t just stop eating crappy food; you have to replace that with healthy food (because you should probably keep eating something). Instead of wanting to lose weight, doesn’t it sound better if you instead want to weigh a specific weight, look great naked, and feel healthy and full of energy? These goals are more powerful motivators than simply getting rid of your old eating habits.

If you have a leaky pipe, that’s a problem. If you curse the pipe and throw your phone over your damned luck, you’re just angry and the problem is still a problem. If you cover the leak with duct tape or place a bucket beneath it to catch the falling water, that’s a temporary fix, however, the problem is still there and can even grow in size. If you simply get rid of the pipe, the leak turns into an explosion of water. If you go into other people’s homes and burst their pipes, that doesn’t fix your pipe situations .If you get rid of the pipe AND THEN get a new pipe, the problem has suddenly transformed into a solution.

That’s the key: perceiving problems as opportunities for solutions.

The first step to turning problems into solutions is to identify the problem as something that needs fixed. That’s it. That’s the end of the situation being a problem; it’s now an opportunity for a solution. If a problem stays a problem, it actually limits the number of solution options we perceive because we’re so focused on said problem, that we miss out on the opportunities outside of that tunnel vision to solve it.

But how can this be applied to politics?

In the words of immortal rapper Mac Dre: err thang (translation: everything).

Is poverty a problem?

You bet.

Is poverty a problem?

Didn’t you just ask me that? Yes.

Is poverty a problem?

YES

Is poverty a problem?

Is this a test of patience? Because I’m not going to pass if you ask me that question again.

Thank y-

Is poverty a problem?

(Throat punch)

Of course poverty is a problem, however continuing to view it as a problem perpetuates the problem and makes it sooooo much harder to create a viable solution. By continuing to look at poverty as a problem, policies are passed, such as the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which was intended to dramatically lower the country’s poverty rate. Since that act passed over 50 years ago, the poverty rate has decreased from 17.3% to 14.5%. The National Center for Policy Analysis has concluded that the “War on Poverty” has cost $22 trillion, more than every American war combined, yet the poverty rate has only been lowered by 2.8%. Maybe in another 50 years (and after another $22 trillion), we can lower the poverty rate to 11.7% and we can put that on bumper stickers (Come to America, where the poverty rate is only 11.7%!).

This act has largely been a failure, not because of the policies put in place, but because of the perception of poverty that has motivated policies such as this. Continuing to perceive poverty as a problem ensures it will remain a problem and one of the frontrunners for the presidency has focused the majority of his campaign on the problem rather than the solution. What if poverty was simply an obstacle that can be overcome in order to achieve wealth, and not an indestructible barrier? The longer we consider poverty a problem and not a solution opportunity, the more permanent it will become.

Hell, look at the War on Terror and the War on Drugs – further proof that focusing policy around eliminating problems is a hindrance more than a help. A friggin’ expensive hindrance.

To be clear: problem-centric thinking will never create solutions, no matter the problem.

What if, instead of attacking problems, we created solutions? Solutions are the opposite of problems, so what is the opposite of a leaky old pipe? Getting rid of the pipe just creates a bigger leak and bursting other pipes does nothing to improve the quality of your pipe, so what is the solution to a leaky pipe? The answer: a perfectly solid, working pipe that no one has to worry about because it’s piping at an optimal level of pipeness. The next time a pipe bursts, you’ll be able to spring into action and create a solution because you’ve trained your mind to focus on the solution instead of the problem.

Back to politics. Hooray!

Pay attention to the next presidential debate: every single solution is going to be centered around eliminating problems. Focusing on eliminating problems will never create solutions unless problems are viewed as opportunities. Poverty will never be eliminated unless wealth is created, no matter how much money is distributed to those living in poverty. Terrorism will never be destroyed until peace is accepted as an agent of change, no matter how many terrorists are killed. Leaks will never be stopped until new pipes are installed, no matter how many pieces of duct tape are applied. Problems will continue to be problems until they are replaced by solutions.

Identify the problem, figure out what the opposite is, and focus on creating that, and not just on eliminating the problem. This is the solution, and the blatant blindness to this fact in our political system is one of the real problems – I mean opportunities for a solution – facing the world today. Living a problem-focused life only created more problems for me, so I have learned to live my life focused on solutions, and it has changed literally everything for me. I have less stress, I take more action and am more productive, and I’ve found a way to make a living conveying this message to live audiences by doing what I love to do. Hardships and obstacles aren’t problems unless you perceive them that way. Likewise, hardships and obstacles won’t be opportunities for solutions until you perceive them that way. Perspective is a choice, and the labels we use determine that choice, which determines our reality. Which choice will you make?

Republicans v. Democrats v. Progress

“I hate all politics. I don’t like either political party. One should not belong to them – one should be an individual, standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.” – Ray Bradbury

“Democrats, what are some things you think of when you think of Republicans?”

“Hunting”

“NASCAR”

“Bible thumpers”

“Racist, homophobic, misogynistic”

“Rich white guys”

“Republicans, what are some things you think of when you think of Democrats?”

“Tree huggers”

“Enablers”

“Bad at money”

“Atheists”

“Hippies”

The previous was an actual exchange in my Political Parties class during my senior year of college, and I’ll never be able to forget it. This day in class served as an eye opener for me because each response was a degradation of another ideology by your future community leaders and policy-makers.

If you identify as Republican, what are some things you think of when you think of Democrats? If you identify as Democrat, what are some things you think of when you think of Republicans? All good things, right?

Imagine a company where half of the board never agreed with the other half. That’s right, they intentionally set out to thwart everything the other half did:

“Yes, I have a proposal to re-allocate 5% of our budget and incrementally increase profits as that money is invested in a more worthwhile venture.”

“No! That’s a terrible idea. How are you going to pay for it? It’s never going to work!”

“If you’d just let me give my presentation-“

“I know that, because you’re in accounting, it’s going to be a disaster! You’re a disgrace to this company!”

“But I put together a proposal with-“

“BOOOOO! NAY! I say NAY!”

Something tells me this company isn’t exactly going to flourish. To make progress, we must be open to new ideas, no matter what department or political party the other person is in, and be willing to ask “What if this guy’s idea could actually work? What can I add that will make it even better?” instead of immediately shooting it down.

Unfortunately, our political system is one comprised of labels, and being labeled as Republican or Democrat means that your ideology must fit within parameters, and parameters limit perspective. Thus, new legislation is often met with the same response as the previously mentioned hypothetical company. The law of the universe states that if it is believed, it is possible. What this means is that if we believe an idea will work, our brains will scour our world for opportunities, pinpoint reasons why the idea will work, and get to work on taking steps to ensure its success. Inversely, the same is true if we believe an idea won’t work. Immediately saying “no” and discrediting an idea only prolongs or destroys the chance for the discovery of a solution. When we work together to search for opportunities to improve upon an idea and work toward a common goal, we create a diverse number of paths to reach that goal. When we’re more focused on our differences, like many policy makers are, reaching that goal becomes more about defeating the other ideology than creating solutions. Imagine if both ideologies were combined to work together instead of used as an excuse to repel each other…

The 2-party system creates an us vs. them mentality; shifting the focus from achieving results to achieving victory over the opposition

If the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers got together this coming Sunday to determine new, creative ways to keep football players safe from head injuries, about sixteen people would tune in. We’re drawn to us vs. them conflict because we like the idea of clear winners and losers. To be able to say “I’m better than you,” has become a need for our programmed egos. While this concept works great in a football game or other sort of competition to determine a winner, it doesn’t exactly foster productivity. With election season in full swing, we’re being bombarded with candidates looking to run the other candidates’ reputations through the mud to prove that “I’m better.” The media, playing off of our egoic desire for winners and losers, has perpetuated this format, and dammit, it’s working. We want to see candidates either stomp on the opposition or crumble under the pressure. We want to know who “won” debates and which party will edge the other in the election. Are we talking about solutions to situations facing the country? No; we’re talking about which candidate we want to win. In reality, all good politicians want to improve this country, and we, as human beings, all want the same things:

  1. Basic needs to be met (food, water, sex, shelter, etc.)
  2. Safety and security (including health, family, property, and job security)
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Confidence, self-esteem, achievement, and respect
  5. Self-actualization through acceptance, equality, morality, problem solving, creativity

However, the need to defeat the opposition has become more important than achieving these needs, and that’s why party labels are not only cracking the foundation of our political system, they’re setting the explosives to blow it up.

To trump (pun not intended) the competition and make them look bad has become the goal of politicians. If this weren’t the case, why are Republicans simply trying to repeal Obamacare while not offering to help craft a new healthcare plan that more people can get on board with? Why are presidential candidates focusing their campaign strategies on tearing down their rivals instead of presenting solutions to problems? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all about the showdown because the showdown instills emotions in the voter base, and emotions draw ratings, clicks, and passionate (frequently hateful) comments. Creating solutions isn’t sexy, but conflict is.

If we’re looking to make progress and improve upon our current system, which, deep down we all want, we have to focus more on progress and not on trying to win or make the other side look bad. In the Super Bowl this Sunday, no one is going to come up with better helmets, more efficient rules, or stricter medical procedures to improve player health, however, someone will win and someone will lose, just like with politics. Except, in the case of politics, when the focus is on wins and losses instead of fostering growth and pursuing the security of all basic human needs, we all lose. Once we eliminate party-line labels, become individuals, and focus on leadership and growth, we can start thinking again. Thinking expands our perspective, introduces new options to propel growth, and inspires a group mindset in pursuit of a common goal. In that case, there don’t have to be winners or losers because everyone has an opportunity to win.