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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Question

Why is it that all of life’s big questions seem to lead us to more questions and not to definitive answers? Or is it that in our quest to understand the apparently unknowable, we stumble upon the answers but do not recognize them for what they are?

Perhaps you have had this experience. You or a group of colleagues, friends, neighbors are daunted by a challenge that seems intractable. Do you ever suspect that the solution is not impossible but rather beyond the will of the group to effect? I know I have seen this often—a careful reasoned dissection of the issues reveals that indeed what first appeared beyond the capacity of my cohort was in fact within our ability to address. What stopped us from moving forward? Resignation based on the belief that someone or several someone’s did not want to solve the problem. The reasons are many. A solution might in the short term cause some discomfort or even hardship. No matter that the longer-term outcome might be a significant improvement over the status quo—change as we know is very hard to accept.

Sometimes we are loath to concede a solution if we think others might benefit more than we would, and there are some who are so stuck on a ‘principle’ that they are un-willing to alter their view. I put a single quote on principle to note that our principles are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes they are not moral directives that arose from a life of introspective reflection and meditation on an issue but rather a reflexive response to a deep-seated uneasiness or bias that we ourselves may not be aware we harbor. That we feel strongly is not necessarily a reflection of the truth of our feelings but only our emotional response. In fact, the more emotional our reaction, the less likely we have truly examined why we feel the way we do.

Whether our issues derive from political, social, religious or other divisions, we should always be willing to listen, learn, and alter our view based on evidence—not feelings. But that is hardly what we humans do. Instead, we throw up our hands and declare those with different viewpoints hostile to us and our way of life. We sagely nod in agreement that the division—the problem—the dilemma cannot be fixed unless the other guy changes his tune and we remain willing to live with the situation rather than find a path forward. The truth is that solutions to life’s dilemmas often come at our expense—not because they must but because we make it so through our inflexible posturing, inability to listen to other perspectives, and our dismissal of anything which might cause us to change.

Now do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting principles do not matter—real truths about human dignity, the sanctity of life, respect and compassion among many others—these are immutable and should never be up for negotiation. But notice these principles are ones we often pay lip service to even as we indulge our vanity with the belief that we are superior to others because we are tolerant and wise.

We have within us the capacity to change, to improve our lot and those of others, to find solutions to vexing problems but to do so we must be prepared to place the interests of others ahead of our own, individually and corporately. And it is for this reason that we encounter so often situations that represent a zero-sum outcome. When we do, we should ask ourselves: is this really a no-win situation or are we simply unprepared to accept the changes, losses, dis-accommodation that would result from agreeing to what we know in the depths of our being what must happen?

The fight, if indeed there is one, is always fiercest just before the end. Observe these phenomena around you and note that what was at the core of any contest when it began, will have become the least important issue by the end. That should tell us what we know intuitively, the answers are always there before us, it is we who choose not to accept them.

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