Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Problem is You

There is a phrase, "If you have a problem, the problem is probably you." Or some variation of that. It captures the problem that a lack of self-awareness can create. Examples are easy—you always seem to get fired, you're always assigned with lazy teammates, things always go wrong around you, everyone treats you badly. Naturally the question arises, "Could it possibly be that everything always goes wrong with me, or is there something about me that attracts and causes problems in my life?" That question can arise only when a person is self-reflective.

But the issue can be a false dichotomy, and those in charge can use that trope to justify their own incompetence. The issue goes both ways. If China is polluting the environment, and the US criticizes China for it, ultimately the criticism is true even if the US is polluting the environment as well. China can't turn to the US and say, "The problem is you." The problem is both: there are people who lack self-awareness and reflectivity, and there are people who run from taking responsibility for their behaviors and blame the character flaws of others in order to do so.

And as Seth Godin says, "The problem you can't talk about... is now two problems" (

In other words, if there's a problem, the better strategy is to take the problem seriously and explore its full extent so that both sides can learn and grow. Certainly there are exceptions where blame is clearly on one side. But wouldn't it help if instead of immediately resorting to cliches, we stopped to take each other seriously and face the possibility that everyone can help each other to grow?

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