DRMacIver's Notebook

You can solve your problems, but you don't have to

You can solve your problems, but you don't have to

Before I start, let me tell you some important truths:

  1. Just because you can solve a problem, does not mean you are obliged to solve it.
  2. Just because you choose not to solve a problem, doesn't mean you don't care about it.
  3. Just because you don't care about a problem you think is important, doesn't make you a bad person.
  4. Just because other people think a problem is important, doesn't mean you have to.

You are a small and finite human being, and you only have so much capacity to deal with the world, and the world can absorb all of that capacity before you engage with the tiniest fraction of its problems. There are more than seven billion people out there, every one of them has problems, and even trying to solve all of your problems is probably going to overwhelm you. Among the billions upon billions of important problems you could devote your efforts to, you've probably got the capacity for at most a few dozen at any given time, and you're probably doing less than that because running permanently at full capacity will make you miserable (and eventually reduce your capacity anyway).

I hope you know these things intellectually, but I bet you don't believe all of them emotionally, and my evidence is this: There are a lot of problems that I could tell you how to solve that would cause you to immediately get mad at me for suggesting that you can solve them.

I don't know what they are, they very from person to person, but most people are walking around with easily solvable problems that they are steadfastly maintaining that they can't solve, because if they could solve them they would still not want to, and then they would feel guilty about that.

People are very good at maintaining a set of beliefs that allow them to not feel guilty, and the easiest way to do this is to believe that anything you think you should do but don't want to is impossible. If you argue this belief convincingly enough, often other people will believe you and stop trying to get you to solve the problem you don't want to do.

It's a genuinely good strategy, as long as you don't mind (or mind less than the alternatives) walking around in constant fear that you might one day discover the truth.

One way this comes out is that every time I offer generic advice on Twitter, I get people mad at me for suggesting that they could solve the problem I'm advising on. They're very insistent that it's literally impossible this advice will work. Usually their reason is one that the advice was specifically designed with in mind. e.g. I hear a lot of my advice is terrible because it doesn't work for ADHD. This is particularly funny because it's often developed by listening to or talking with people with ADHD, and developed further to work with my own more ADHD tendencies given that I'm only just below the diagnostic thresholds myself.

Not every problem in your life is solvable, some really are immutable features of reality, but I am almost certain that vastly more of them are than you're pretending. I fully endorse your right and respect your choice not to solve them. I even fully endorse your right to not listen to me when I tell you that they're solvable. But I do not endorse your right to give me a hard time for talking about solutions, because many people are helped by trying to solve the problems they want to solve, and I have no desire to be complicit in maintaining a shared lie that hurts those people.

Options exist. If you want to choose to believe otherwise, that's on you, but don't make your self-protective strategies an excuse to sabotage others.