When problems arise, there are three ways to respond: positivity, negativity, or relativity. The first often overlooks potential pitfalls. The second often overlooks all the possibility. The third sees reality and responds with creativity. We choose our approach based on two things: our fearful agenda and our habits. They polarize us.
The other day I brought a frustrating situation to someone’s attention. The problem stemmed from unclear roles, responsibilities, time frames, and no written plan. That was my reality. I’m certain it is reality for most of us at the moment.
Now, like us, this person was trying to do an enormous amount with severely reduced resources. He was understandably overwhelmed. However, I was not just venting. I came to the conversation with a solution as well. I was willing to build the plan that would clarify roles, responsibilities, timeframes and provide the roadmap. That solution didn’t seem to resonate for him.
We had a different view of reality.
In order to find common ground, we must release our own rigid view of reality. That was true for him, and it was true for me.
Relativity is the only response that can transform problem into solution. When we resist it, or blame the messenger (or circumstance) for the current problem, or deny a problem even exists, we cut off solution’s ability to surface.
Here’s an example to demonstrate the difference. Suppose you stand at the edge of an abyss. It is steep, jagged, and descends hundreds of feet. Perhaps you know many people have vanished trying to climb down and up the other side. Nonetheless, you feel compelled to cross it and get to the other side as quickly as possible.
The Positive Approach to An Abyss
The optimist looks down, and after taking a deep gulp, decides to use the power of positive thinking, and affirm the abyss is probably not as dangerous as it looks. They may not be foolish enough to jump directly into the abyss, but instead begin to gingerly climb down, as others cheer them on. That’s denial of a problem.
The Negative Approach to An Abyss
The pessimist looks down, looks across, and begins screaming loudly that there is an abyss, and we will never get across it to the other side. They might even blame someone for leading them to the abyss, or God for putting the abyss there in the first place. Either way, they keep pointing and screaming. That’s focusing solely on the problem.
The Relative Approach to the Abyss
The realist (or relativist) walks up to the abyss, looks down, looks across, and says, “Yep. It is definitely an abyss alright.” Then they begin to explore. They ask questions:
What is on the other side we need? Is there someplace else we can look for it?
How far does this abyss go? Has anyone looked to see if there is another way around?
Do we have the resources and skill to build a bridge across? If not, can we find them?
Has anyone else ever gotten across successfully? Can we use their insights to our own advantage?
In order to find a workable solution, we must first accept reality, then immediately get curious. Our curiosity doesn’t change the fact that there is a problem. What it changes is how we see the answers. We look for data, resources, and insights to build a workable plan.
But there is something else remarkably important – realists (or relativists) rarely travel alone. They aren’t asking themselves these questions rhetorically. They are in community with others who are all trying to find the solutions together.