Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Problem with “Issue”

Issues are all around us these days.  Anything from a minor disagreement to a major health concern, such as substance abuse, may be called an “issue.”  The current avoidance of the word “problem” suggests an unwillingness to take responsibility for bad situations in our lives or even to discuss them in clear language.  Plumbers know that leaking faucets and burst pipes don’t heal themselves; someone has to wade in and do the actual work of repairing them.  By mischaracterizing problems that require human intervention as “issues” we turn serious matters into vaporous entities, like unpleasant aromas, which may go away on their own.  If it’s an issue then nobody needs to do anything about it; instead, we can sit around discussing the situation at length (think 3-hour meetings).  If it’s a problem, then a person or several people are required to analyze and deal with it, to be problem-solvers.  

At the far end of the problem-solving spectrum are people like surgeons and architects, who want everything to be perfect.  For family doctors and home remodelers, compromise is the order of the day: how much of this problem can I solve without precipitating an even worse one?  Problem-solving has its limits.  When I was young I used to believe that persistence and hard work could overcome any obstacle.  One of the reasons why I like going to the gym is that effort tends to produce visible results, which doesn’t necessarily happen in the rest of the world.  When I was in my forties, partly under the influence of yoga, I came to accept the fact that some imperfections must simply be accepted – the food allergies, the one leg shorter than the other.  No body’s perfect.

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