This post will just be a short anecdote about problems, solutions, alchemy and human nature.
One afternoon my mom and siblings and I were visiting with a couple of other large homeschooling families. My sister and I were playing with several other girls around our own ages out in our friend’s yard. We were playing with an assortment of old barbie-type dolls, and some Lady Lovely Locks dolls. The condition of the dolls varied, and some in particular were prettier and “better” than the others.
I ended up having to play with a doll no one else wanted. At first I was disappointed and I tried to insist that we have a chance to trade so that I could play with one of the “better” dolls. I also thought about just quitting the game and not playing at all, but then I knew I would get bored with no one to play with, and my friends would say I was being a spoilsport.
As I said in an earlier segment, as a kid, I loved the books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I was always inspired by Tom Sawyer’s brilliant move to get the town’s kids to pay to him money to paint the fence that he was supposed to paint. Through a fundamental attitude adjustment, Tom Sawyer changed what was a chore into a money-making opportunity for himself, a fun experience for his friends, and in the end the fence itself still got painted. Everybody won. Although fictional, this story always stood out to me as absolute genius and a powerful example of turning metaphorical “lead” into “gold”. I wanted to understand what was happening in this story on a deeper level, and learn to do the same thing.
So I stayed in the game with my friends, playing with the “worst” doll, but I decided to try an experiment. Just as Tom Sawyer had shifted his attitude about painting the fence from a boring and laborious chore to an exciting and creative privilege, instead of feeling dejected and sorry for myself, I decided to re-imagine my doll as beautiful and desirable, and myself as special and lucky to have her.
At first this took a little effort, but after a while I could really do it, and I started to genuinely favor this doll. I imagined her personality, what she liked and her quirks and talents–and all of this, of course, was coming from my own imagination. After seeing her through these new eyes, I was even inspired to dress her in different clothes, clothes that beforehand I barely noticed or disregarded as ugly and unacceptable, but after my re-imagining they suddenly took on a new “coolness” and enhanced the re-visioned version of the formerly despised doll.
The result of this experiment was pure alchemy! Shortly after just making this simple but fundamental internal shift, my friends started bringing their dolls over to see what my doll was up to. She was becoming popular! By the end of our play session, other girls were offering trades and asking to play with my doll–the doll that literally no one wanted just an hour or so earlier.
This is an effect that I have seen work time and time again in the larger world.
It’s also an example of the permaculture principle, “The Problem is the Solution.” Within whatever negative circumstance we find ourselves in or whatever problem we face, lies an inherent solution or opportunity, usually at a new level of whatever “game” we are playing. Note: the solution is not at the same level of the game where the problem still seems like a real problem. The solution is at a higher level. It forces you to go beyond the limited thinking of the first level, where the problem is, and expand the entire frame of reference. This is a transformational solution.
As Albert Einstein said, “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.” And, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Truthfully, I suspect these are two versions of the same original quote, badly translated and found on the internet, but in any case, they get across the point I am trying to make.
In my simple example with the dolls, a same-level solution would have been to insist on a trade, or force a rotation of who got to play with the better dolls, or to buy a new doll and discard the ugly doll. But these solutions are not transformational–with a trade or forced rotation of dolls, there is still always someone who has to play with the ugly doll, and some who get the better dolls. It is essentially just trying to make a crappy situation more equitable. If a new doll was bought and the bad doll thrown away, then on top of unnecessary waste being created, almost certainly some other doll would become the new bad doll that no one wanted to play with, while the new doll would become the more desired. Again, everything stays at the same basic level, with winners and losers. There is no real transformation. No real solution. Just ways to try to make a crappy situation less crappy. That’s not the world I want to play in.
Reimagining the unwanted doll as beautiful and desirable is a next-level, transformational solution. The stone which the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone. Everybody wins. I wasn’t forcing the other girls to give up the dolls that they had, so they could share with me. Instead I recognized the hidden potential of the doll I had, and in so doing transformed it into a unique and valuable commodity.
- Think back over your life and experiences. Has there ever been a time that you have turned around a negative situation or discovered a surprising, hidden solution by adjusting your attitude and approach?
- What is one problem you are currently facing? Try playing around with this and imagine seeing this situation from the next level up, where this “problem” is really a solution. What opens up for you? For example, if you don’t have a job, you may not have a lot of money (problem), but maybe you have more time (opportunity) to work on a special project (solution?) you had been putting off.
I am committed to writing a book over the next several months. To help keep me on track and accountable, I am publicly committing to posting content chunks here on the blog each Friday. These chunks of writing won’t be perfect and they will go through further editing before the book is ready for publication. Your constructive comments and feedback are always welcome!