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Put on Your Solutionary Glasses

Be part of the solution.

"Institute for Humane Education"
Source: "Institute for Humane Education"

Despite the fervent hopes of so many that the dawn of 2021 would quickly turn the page on the traumas of 2020, we should not have been surprised that the year got off to such a dangerous and violent start.

The fanned embers of polarization – stoked by so many in the U.S. federal and state governments, through social media platforms, and by all who have been indulging in divisive speech and writing – have burst into the flames of both skyrocketing COVID cases and a war-like zone in Washington, DC. Yet, while we may rightly locate responsibility where it’s due, it’s time for each of us to do some soul searching and embrace our personal responsibility for solving the problems we are facing rather than continue to fan the flames of discord.

While it’s both easier and psychologically gratifying to frame most issues in our society as either/or and then choose our side and rage with abandon, this approach practically always exacerbates problems, making us complicit in their perpetuation. If we regularly shore up our arguments, insult, unfriend, and cancel others, we will be too busy to focus on the most powerful approach at our disposal: being solutionary.

I’m not suggesting that we should remain neutral and fail to take a position on moral issues. That would be its own either/or. As Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” But when side-taking becomes our end game, we miss the opportunities at our disposal to create better systems that can lead to a society where we can all survive and thrive.

The first step in becoming solutionary is to put on our solutionary glasses. This metaphor refers to the practice of bringing a solutionary lens to problems, which enables us to:

  • Identify problems and contextualize them within the systems and mindsets from which they originate and are perpetuated.
  • See the perspectives of all stakeholders.
  • Recognize opportunities for collaboration aimed at finding solutions that do the most good and least harm for everyone.
  • Pinpoint the best solutionary solutions to implement.

As you can see from the choice of italicized words, solutionaries actually look at problems differently from the way they’re typically reported, presented, and debated.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Focus inward: Given what’s unfolded over the past year, it’s legitimate to be angry, but ask yourself whether venting – especially on social media – has contributed to any meaningful solutions or any positive change. Then ask yourself how you can best cultivate restraint and wise actions.
  • Study others’ views: While it can be challenging to communicate with others whose perspectives are opposed to your own, unless we understand the thoughts and emotions of people whose views differ from ours, we cannot find the places where we agree so that we can successfully implement solutions in such a polarized society. Because most of us want to live in safety and have opportunities for ourselves and our families to thrive, there is common ground from which we can move forward. I’m not suggesting that we accept others’ views, particularly when they are discriminatory and harmful, but rather that we aim to understand for the purpose of finding the best strategies to create positive change.
  • Zoom out when you consume media that foments division and promotes polarization: By zooming out, I mean put on your solutionary glasses and observe this media for what it is, whether it is social media or highly biased “news” sources. Notice how you are being manipulated, and the ways in which your emotions are being deliberately heightened. Pay attention to the processes being utilized to make you angry and turn you into a warrior instead of a solutionary. Then put yourself on a media diet and refuse to indulge in consuming divisive social media posts and highly biased media. How can you know if you’re consuming biased media and/or interpreting opinions as facts? Check out these charts. With that said, it is worth occasionally viewing and listening to highly biased media from across the political spectrum for the purpose of testing your viewpoints and broadening your understanding of the range of perspectives at play. Remember, we can’t solve a problem that we refuse to see.
  • Seek truth and aspire rather than conspire: Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but we are seeing the toll they are taking as people who love their country and worry for their future come to believe falsehoods that their leaders (and the media that promulgate those leaders’ dishonesty) are perpetuating. Conspire literally means “breathe together,” a metaphor for thinking (and plotting) alike. It’s time to aspire to challenging ourselves to take on the hard but meaningful effort of seeking truth. This might mean committing to checking sources when we see something on social media that aligns with our worldview before we share what may be misinformation or disinformation.

As you wear your solutionary glasses, you will likely find persistent anger giving way to curiosity, engagement, and hope. This hope isn’t based on wishful thinking, but rather on the unfolding of better systems that arise from solutionary thinking and action.

Here's what hope looks like when we not only do this ourselves but also educate the solutionary generation: