4 Reasons Why It’s Important to Say “I Don’t Know”

The 2020 presidential election is in full swing and with it, all of the platitudes, cliches, and mudslinging that accompanies it. Watching politicians jockey for position by having answers to every question, even though it’s evident they’re beating around the bush to avoid admitting they don’t have the answer, is one of my favorite parts of elections. Appearing to have the answer when they don’t actually hurts them in the long run as leaders. When was the last time you watched a political leader respond to a question with an “I don’t know. I’ll have to do further research to answer that question.”? I know I don’t remember.

We can learn from this in our everyday lives, whether we’re in a leadership position or we’re looking for relationship advice. In the quest to look like the smartest person in the room, we miss out on opportunities to say “I don’t know” and open ourselves up to new information. Though it seems counterproductive on the surface, the willingness to admit that you don’t know something has some advantages. Here’s 4 of them:

1. NOT KNOWING SPARKS INNOVATION

We’re on the precipice of a new era because of the advances in technology based on automation. This is a technological revolution that will dwarf the industrial revolution, which required more algorithm-based thinking and management. Change is already occurring at rates we’ve never seen, and with people in previously untouched places around the world like Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East logging on, that change is only going to exponentially increase. This means you will be competing with, not only people around the corner, but companies in Manila, Dubai, and Buenos Aires. With so much information being uploaded at any given moment, if you want to inspire innovation within your organization, it is vital for you to admit to not knowing what you don’t know. Even if you’re 100% sure you’re right, being open to the fact that there’s constantly new information that can counter your current position is key to growth. Besides, if your mindset is already fixed, then where is the room to expand?

2. UNCERTAINTY BREEDS CONFIDENCE FROM OTHERS

Though this may seem like a stretch, there is a big difference between “I have all the answers,” then being proven wrong, and saying “I don’t know.” Though our egos want to make us appear at the top of our game, shutting out new information with this “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality lowers the confidence that others have in you. This loss in confidence means that people will be hesitant to approach you with new ideas, limiting your potential as a team. Saying “I don’t know,” makes them more comfortable with their own levels of not knowing, creating an openness to new ideas and collaboration that isn’t present with the barriers that come with having all of the answers.

3. IT EXPANDS PERSPECTIVE

By being unsure about something, it activates our intrinsic human desire to explore and learn. When we are actively trying to solve a problem by trying new things, it activates  our brains in a way that expands our perspective. This opens us up to more pathways to solutions, rather than the limited strategies we can use when we already know “everything.”

4. IT CAN COUNTERACT STRESS

By being steadfast in how sure we are, it closes us off from discovering new things. When we do discover a new solution to an old problem, our brains release dopamine, a neurochemical that limits the stress chemical cortisol.  Less stress means better health, strengthened relationships, and more creativity, and achieving that “Aha!” moment can be a life hack to the creation of excitement while your stress levels dwindle.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

What the Cavs Championship Taught Me About People

Sports!

Just mindless idiots trying to put a sphere into a circle while the other mindless idiots wearing a different colored shirt are all like, “I don’t want you to put that in there,” while thousands of mindless idiots watching are all screaming “We want you to put that in there!” Right?

Not so fast.

I grew up watching, playing, and getting emotionally invested in sports. I’ve always loved sports, but I’ve recently expanded my perspective of them and grown a bit more distant.

“What’s the point? It’s not like you have any control over what happens.”

Maybe not, but if this is your worldview on sports, you may want to take a step back and reconsider your perspective. It’s not the athletes, gameplans, deals, performance, or even the sport itself that’s so important; it’s the group mentality in pursuit of one thing: a championship.

When the Cavs won, thousands of people took to the streets of Cleveland in celebration, hugging, high fiving, chanting, and screaming with joy in the face of complete strangers without getting punched in the face. Being a witness to this completely shifted my perspective. We can learn something here that has a further reach than any sports championship could ever reach:

Togetherness.

When people have a common goal and believe in the achievement of that goal, they come together. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a combined effort from the team itself, the coaching staff, front office, trainers and equipment managers, and ownership to reach their collective goal. As for the fans, while only a few thousand could cheer their team on in the arena, the rest took to the internet, packed local bars, or sat around their TVs, sending their positive energy in hope of reaching this collective goal. When the goal was achieved, there was such a sense of joy, love, excitement, and positive energy, that people who would never associate with one another were high fiving and hugging in celebration. Then, a few days later, over one million people packed the streets of Cleveland to share their appreciation for the team.

Looking down on the celebration in the streets after the game from a rooftop bar, I couldn’t help but think: “What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating positive solutions to other problems? What if companies came together as one cohesive unit to solve financial issues, rather than just the board making cuts?” (Although a celebratory parade might be a bit extreme: “Come join us for the Hazen, Hazen, & Hazen-Hazen Law Firm Victory Parade for the New Break Room Soda Machine!”) A collective mindset is more likely to create a collective solution. Whether it’s in the workplace, with family or friends, or even with the government.

“What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating a better life for each of us?” Looking at the major issues facing the world with this upcoming election, what if we looked at issues like immigration, not as Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims, Latinos, or even Americans; but as fans of living peacefully. That’s what we all want. It’s our NBA Championship; our collective goal.

If so many people from different walks of life can descend upon a city in pursuit of the common goal of a sports championship, what can we do to come together in pursuit of the common goal of a higher quality standard of living?

What if we looked, not at our differences, but at our similarities, and embraced those?

People would be high fiving, hugging, and sharing their joy with strangers. Sports has nothing to do with mindless idiots. Quite the contrary, in fact. It’s a microcosm of life and what happens when people come together in pursuit of a common goal.

 

Yeah, But What DO You Want?

“What kind of salad dressing does everyone want?” Asks James as the salad bowl makes its rounds around the table.

You and a group of your friends have gathered for a weekend dinner. A smorgasbord of food packs the middle of the large rectangular table, from brisket and mashed potatoes, to brussels sprouts and bottles of wine. The aroma of garlic, onion, herbs and spices fills your nose. Put simply, this dinner is about to be legit.

“Do you have Hidden Valley ranch?” Responds Melissa inquisitively.

“Yeah, would you like it?”

“Ew, no way!” Melissa shoots back with a disgusted look on her face.

“Okay, what would you like instead? I have balsamic, caesar, raspberry vinaigrette, or sesame ginger.”

“Not Hidden Valley ranch!”

“Yeah, I got that. But what other dressing do you want?” His arm tiring, he sets the bowl down on the table.

“How can you even have Hidden Valley ranch? I thought my friends were better than that.”

Not sure if Melissa is being serious, James smiles to test the waters. Melissa’s face remains firmly entrenched in a scowl.

“I… I mean, I don’t use it that often. Mostly for dinners like this when I have guests over.”

“Who in the world likes that stuff??”

Sara raises her hand from the other side of the table, “I like it.”

“Well you’re an idiot for liking it and you’re an idiot for even having it.” Melissa rises to her feet. “Do you know how many GMOs are in there?? You’re basically killing yourselves, and when you do, I’m not coming to your funerals!”

“This balsamic vinaigrette is homemade and organic. Take your pick.”

“You’re so naive – all of you! What if someone who works for Hidden Valley ranch infiltrated your house and contaminated your dressing? It happened with e.coli at Chipotle, and it’s going to happen again with you!”

With that, Melissa spikes her cloth napkin onto the table and storms out of the room leaving everyone dumbfounded.

“Could somebody pass the ranch?”

When someone asks you if you want to go bowling or to the zoo, you don’t rip on going bowling if you don’t like bowling. You simply say, “Let’s go to the zoo,” because you like more things about the zoo, and, out of the two choices, that’s the one you prefer. By making this choice, you just made progress. Good job!

Which brings us to this presidential election, which has been incredibly amusing because I’ve noticed the “Not Hidden Valley Ranch” mindset over and over. Understandably, we all have candidates that we don’t like, but if all we focus on is not wanting that candidate to be president, it takes the focus away from what we do want instead. At a recent Donald Trump rally in Wisconsin, protests formed outside of the venue, mostly of people hating on Donald Trump’s hateful message. If you hate Donald Trump because he’s a hater, all you’re doing is drawing focus onto the hate, generating more hate, and making the situation more hatey. Case in point: one of these protesters was pepper sprayed by a Trump supporter, and, unless you’re part of a really weird family, you don’t pepper spray people you like. At the same rally, a man went around offering free hugs with the message “Make America love again.” Although Trump’s supporters weren’t feeling very huggy, this is a much more powerful message than one that is anti-Trump.

Love is the opposite of hate, and if we don’t want hate, let’s stop focusing on being anti-hate, and focus more on being pro-love.

Homemade balsamic vinaigrette is the opposite of Hidden Valley Ranch, and if we don’t want Hidden Valley Ranch, let’s stop focusing on being anti-Hidden Valley Ranch, and focus on being more pro-homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

The more we focus on the negatives of the presidential candidates we don’t want, the less we focus on the positives of our own.

If you don’t like Trump, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hillary, stop focusing on what you don’t like about her and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Cruz, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Bernie, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Kasich, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hidden Valley ranch, stop focusing on what you don’t like about it and eat another salad dressing. If not, you’re just holding up dinner for everyone else.

Vote for a Leader: What to Look for When Picking the President

Vote for Donald Trump.

Kidding.

Unless, of course, you believe he exhibits more of the qualities I’m about to list than any of the other candidates. These qualities of what makes a great leader were inspired by Think and Grow Rich, the benchmark personal development book by Napoleon Hill about what makes a great leader. Over time, we have learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership. Those who abide by these principles have, time and time again, proven to be strong leaders who inspire others to be the same.

Why am I writing this? Because, as someone who needs life-saving brain surgery once said, “We need a strong leader as president like I need a hole in my head.”

Translation:

More important than party affiliation, policy on immigration, or hand size is the ability to inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal. In the case of elected officials, their objective is to provide the environment to foster this pursuit. But what is the common goal? Some would say success, but I believe a fuller term is “fulfillment.” This includes having basic needs met, happiness, engagement in work, finding meaning, pursuing and accomplishing goals and reaping the benefits, and strong personal relationships. Positive psychologists agree that when we meet these benchmarks, we are, indeed, living full and fulfilling lives. Beyond wealth, success, or even happiness is a need for fulfillment. This is what we’re all here for and it’s the common goal of all, but we must remember that it’s not our elected officials’ responsibility to provide fulfillment for us. Fulfillment is created from within, but it is up to our leaders to cultivate an environment that inspires us to pursue this. Our leaders, specifically the president, must, through his or her words and actions, set an example for us to follow. When asked about the direction of this presidential campaign, actor Kevin Spacey said, “I happen to believe that we get what we deserve,” and he is so right. Just read the comment sections of any video, social media post, or article, and chances are people are arguing. Not only are they arguing, they’re hurling hateful insults and making demeaning accusations at one another. People are going to have different perspectives. To respect this fact gives us the opportunity to move forward. To deny it and try to force our own beliefs on others through hateful and bigoted language only denies this progress. What we need is unity in pursuit of individual and community fulfillment. What we actually have is divisiveness in pursuit of fulfillment. That’s why we need a true, strong leader who brings people together. That’s why I’m writing this.

What to Look for When Voting

Do they inspire togetherness? – This includes the setting aside of labels like Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, black or white, etc. in the pursuit of the common good. How can unity be achieved when people are categorizing themselves into opposing categories? A leader must be clear that we are all in the same boat – all of us are human beings in pursuit of personal fulfillment – these labels do nothing but cause us to trip over each other. Does your candidate attempt to pick apart the position of other candidates or do they focus, instead on their vision for leadership? To bring people together, we must be willing to accept and respect the fact that others have different perspectives because, as I mentioned earlier, we all want the same thing, we just have different ways of getting there. A running back stealing the ball away from his team’s quarterback to try to score himself just stalls progress and may cost his team the victory. If the quarterback throws a touchdown pass instead, the team still scores, just in a different way than how the running back would score. There are no labels; only people in pursuit of the same thing: fulfillment.

Do they have a clear and definite vision? – This includes a vision for their own course to follow that lifts others as well as themselves. Are there well-constructed goals and plans? Is there passion and belief in the achievement of these goals? Is this a vision that promotes inspiration in others? Does the leader strive after short-term goals, have a long-term vision, or both? Does the vision involve creating solutions rather than just doing away with problems? If we have a clear, definite vision, we are more definite and intentional with our decision-making because we know where we are going. Believe it or not, a great leader knows what direction they’re headed.

Do they own their shortcomings and mistakes? Do they actively learn and grow from them? Do they blame, complain, and make excuses or do they take action based on what they have been dealt? – Nothing defines a leader more than the ability to accept responsibility for mistakes, even if they weren’t solely responsible. This may be the most important leadership quality because, when we accept responsibility, it means we are in control of our own life. If we blame, complain, or make excuses, we are forfeiting this control and giving it to someone or something else. Sure, the media has its biases, maybe the last president left you with a mess, or Congress is being Congress and reading Green Eggs and Ham instead of leading, but a strong leader can step back and say, “This is the hand I’ve been dealt. Maybe I haven’t made the best choices so far, but it’s what I do with it now that determines what I get.”

Do they have a history of overcoming obstacles, doubts, and fears or do they cow-tow to the desires and wishes of others? – There will be roadblocks, obstacles, detours, and detractors. If a leader has belief in their vision, these are a necessary part of achieving it. If these deterrers cause the person to abandon their vision due to difficulty, they are no longer qualified to be considered a leader. Strategy and actions may change, but as long as the vision and goal remain the same in the face of resistance, they are most definitely a leader.

In the face of opposition and difficulty, do they exhibit self-control? – Leaders must be an example, so when difficulty arises, they must manage their temper, not be careless, and choose wise words. When they fail to do these things, do they sincerely apologize and promise to be better? Just like a parent with a small child, leaders must mind their behavior in front of their constituents.

Do they have a sense of justice? – When power and intimidation are used to rule, it has always backfired throughout history. Those who attain power through spreading fear, intimidation, and violence have always faced a downfall even greater than their rise to power. If you were the boss of a company and you inspired your staff to come to work so that they were genuinely excited to add to your vision, wouldn’t that be more fulfilling than threatening them to do their jobs? Does the leader put himself in the shoes of his constituents to consider the morality of his actions? If not, things can spiral downhill, and quickly.

Does their life, personal and professional, revolve around growth and opportunity or do they continually make the same mistakes? – Evolution is the key to the expansion of life, from an entire species down to the individual. Has the candidate shown growth after making mistakes or do they continually respond in the same way when they are faced with the same or similar situations? Do they view roadblocks as permanent or as opportunities to find a better way to create solutions? We aren’t the same people we were 20, 10, 5, or even 1 year ago because we learn from our experiences. We grow the most when we consider obstacles as opportunities. Is that what your preferred candidate does?

Do they go the extra mile to serve others before they serve themselves? – Going the extra mile to serve is actually an investment. Human beings are biologically wired to reciprocate, so when others go out of their way to serve us, it inspires us to go out of our way to serve others. Great leaders inspire, and they do so by going the extra mile.

Do they have a pleasing personality? – This doesn’t just mean that they’re “nice,” this means that they give other people attention, no matter if they agree with them or not. This means they don’t talk negatively about others. This means that they are honest and genuine. This means that they forgive others for their wrongdoings. This means that they are willing to see the world through the eyes of those with another point of view, or who are less fortunate, rather than just dismissing them. This means considering and being appreciative of the feedback given by others. This means that they tip at least 20% when going out to eat. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t mandatory, but it’s still important to consider how they treat the people that can’t give them much.

Are they willing to cooperate with others? – We are far more effective problem-solvers when we have a willingness to consider the positions of others. When we only consider our views or the views of those who agree with us, we only see a limited amount of the full picture. When we consider all ideas, the whole picture becomes much clearer. Cooperation also means that, when the goal is met, the leader gives his appreciation to all of those he worked with, rather than taking sole responsibility.

Do they surround themselves with other leaders who focus on serving others? – We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Don’t you want your leader to surround themselves with other leaders?

Do they inspire others to be leaders as well? – What good is being a leader when you can’t inspire others to learn from you? What I mean by inspiring other leaders doesn’t necessarily mean inspiring them to take on a leadership role. I mean that they are inspired to exhibit these qualities in their own lives, no matter what job they have or role they play.

To be a leader is to live with purpose, conviction, a service-oriented attitude, and to inspire others to do the same. To lead is to live a life of fulfillment. Don’t you think we should have a president that does the same?

 

 

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.