My dog, Lemmy, isn’t much of a problem solver. He’s a world-class problem announcer, though.
Lemmy’s definition of “problem” ranges from “someone rang a doorbell on TV” to “someone rang the actual doorbell.” In other words, my dog is a redundant doorbell. And unlike my actual doorbell, Lem Lem shits a lot. My actual doorbell hardly ever shits.
I’m just kidding. I don’t have a doorbell. This blogging thing doesn’t pay doorbell-having money. If you want to see me in person, you’ll have to knock on my door. I won’t answer it, but to be fair, I also won’t answer it if you push the spot where the doorbell button is supposed to be. Lemmy will flip the fuck out either way, though. Your move, Knocky.
“Problem announcing” has much less value to society than problem solving. That’s why Lemmy still lives with his mom and dad at 28-dog-years-old: his complete lack of marketable skills.
But think about it: who makes the big bucks? Besides people with connections to Russian oligarchs, I mean. Who makes the insanely big bucks in American society?
Hint: almost none of them are Elite Yelpers.
That is, almost zero wildly successful people make a habit of telling literally everyone what they didn’t like about the tacos they bought for lunch.
But a tiny fraction of them, inspired by those average-at-best tacos, take a stab at doing it better. They don’t bitch or complain, at least not for long. Rather, they view the mediocrity of something they encounter as a potential opportunity. They see a problem and solve it for profit.
We can talk at length about privilege, unfair advantages, issues of access vis-à-vis race and ethnicity, gender disparities, political influence buying, and any number of other very real caveats to the wealth accumulation. There are a number of public policy problems that allow 0.1% of the population to earn, accumulate, and keep hoards of cash out of the general economy. And there are even more public policy problems that make that 0.1% look homogenous in gender, race, and class.
But playing the game as it’s currently written, some people still get it done and wind up fabulously wealthy. If it wasn’t Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk, it would have been three others. And if we adjusted the rules, maybe it would be a different three. Or maybe three hundred, each with slightly smaller pools of gold doubloons in which to swim.
And millions more play the game and wind up “successful,” in any version of that word you see fit to use. It’s rarely an all-or-nothing proposition; one can live a very comfortable life as a member of the 10% if they fall short of membership in the 1%.
But no matter what rule changes we institute, everyone will not wind up rich. Differences in effort, skill, and goals ensure that. Finite resources enhance the competitive nature of each of those otherwise innocuous realities.
Here’s an example. If four people play musical chairs, and there are four chairs, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow anyone is. But if there are only three chairs, the slowest person’s ass will be the one on the floor.
Limited resources exacerbate the effects of differences in capabilities and effort.
So what does this have to do with Lemmy barking at the doorbell?
I’m getting to that, jeez. Imagine if four people were playing musical chairs, but one of the players spent the duration of the song snippet pointing out chair-versus-ass disparities, all while the other three participants continued playing the game. Who wins then? I’m not sure, but I can tell you who won’t win. The dude who spends his time lamenting the unfairness of the game instead of playing will be the one to lose that round when the tune stops. Guaranteed. Problem announcing always loses to problem solving.
To be fair, you could also be a cutthroat beast with a doctorate in musical chairsmanship, and still wind up on your hyper-specifically-educated, beastly ass. That’s even truer if there are seven billion players and still just three chairs. Musical chairs, like capitalism, is a cruel mistress.
Side note: I would like my epitaph to read, “MUSICAL CHAIRS IS A CRUEL MISTRESS.” If you don’t make this happen, I will haunt you by removing your chairs at random and pausing your favorite song mid-verse.
Skill, education, and desire can’t guarantee victory, especially not when the numbers are stacked against you. But focusing too much energy on decrying the game’s unfairness—at the expense of playing—ensures your loss. There are just too many people in the game, and too few spots at the top, to stand a chance of “winning” if you’re not focused intently on participating in the game.
“But I don’t want to play an unfair game, I want to change the rules so it’s fair for everyone!” whined the
Ralph Nader voter Bernie-or-bust Bro.
Admirable. But do you know who writes the rules? Unfortunately, it’s literally never the people who bow out because the game is unfair. Nope. In our democratic republic, and in most of life, the winners write the rules.
You want campaign finance reform? Term limits? Think Citizens United should be overturned? You won’t get any of it if you don’t control the levers of government. And we won’t control the levers of government in the USA if we “protest vote” our way to a second Trump term or another McConnell-led Senate.
Bitching about the unfairness of it all will never fix the unfairness of it all.
The same is true for your job, your relationship, or anything else that’s important to you. If you think it’s not working well, how—exactly—do you propose to improve it?
If you can’t answer that, but you know it needs to be improved, chances are you are stuck in problem announcer mode. I can predict your future, if that’s the case: fast-forward a week, a year, a decade, and you’ll still be dissatisfied. It might be with another job or another partner, but I can guarantee you will not actually solve the problem if you merely complain without bringing a plan to the table.
I have a challenge for each of you (and, most of all, myself).
Every time you hear a doorbell ring or a dog bark, ask yourself: what problems am I repeatedly announcing instead of solving? Write it down, and think of two or three small actions you could take to improve the situation. If they take less than 5 minutes to perform, get up and perform them. If they’re bigger than that, break them down further until you get to one 5-minute task, and get up and do it.
Get online and register to vote. Look up a marriage counselor and call the first one you find. Take out the trash. Text your mom. Turn off your phone and read a chapter. Take your incessantly barking problem announcer for a walk around the block.
Let the sound of the doorbell be your reminder that small action beats dissatisfied inaction every time.
Given Lemmy’s predilection for barking at every single thing he hears, I plan on reflecting on this topic a lot this weekend.
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Need some more Hitting The Trifecta right now? Try this one: These Are The People In Your Neighborhood. Sorry. Or how about this one? King Donald. You’ll like this one, too: A Letter To My Younger Self.