Problem Solving


By Richard Kieninger


The progression of the high school or college graduate from the theoreti­cal speculations of academe into the demanding practicalities and responsibilities of the worlds of commerce and marriage has always been fraught with his apprehension and anxiety. The transition from being a student to becoming an active participant in the social, business and political circles in which we are all expected to share is a period where fear of making embarrassing errors and suffering feelings of inadequacy and unpreparedness are to be expected. It is unavoidably a period of testing and growing up. The recent proliferation of widely publicized, potential world disasters which people must immediately face and effectively solve has certainly complicated the prospects of today’s young graduate. There is no doubt but that the problems of drug use, ecological pollu­tion, racial inequality, political corruption, urban decay, moral degeneration, organized crime, and international conflict, all added to the constant possibility of nuclear annihilation, will not go away by themselves. Hard work, clear thinking, personal sacrifice, and much soul searching is the lot of all of us.


A mere two generations ago the graduate had little else to challenge him beyond learning how to earn a living and conforming to the dictates of his elders. Today, however, the bewildering array of staggering problems which he is expected to feel personally responsible for helping to solve makes him realize that his schooling has given him almost no information for dealing with such problems. He is understandably frustrated with the irrelevance of his school courses in meeting the urgent pressures against his very survival. Like other people of all generations, he feels these problems have been unfairly imposed upon him by others; and like everyone else, he resents having to clean up the mess at great expense while he persuades himself of his own innocence.


It is unfortunate that most of the great problems are almost insoluble, and some actually have no practical answer. It takes a mature mind to tolerate an interminable situation which defies remedy in one’s own lifetime. The mental and emotional processes of most people break down under such unremitting pressure. Some people will deal with situations of extreme complexity in terms of simplistic, radical cure-alls—revolutionaries might claim that mere over­throw of whatever regime is currently struggling with the problems will solve the problems, whereas reactionaries might claim that return to the old ways and crushing those who are dissatisfied will return the world to a pre-problem era—both alternatives have their emotional appeal but are essentially irrational. An­other reaction of a man of immature mind is to ignore the facts and continue doing whatever he has done before and console himself that the world has always survived and the current problems will solve themselves and go away. This is a mild form of breakdown akin to the mindless, repetitive motions seen among survivors of great disasters—for instance, the man who endlessly trans­fers bricks from one pile to another amongst the rubble of his earthquake-leveled home; the dazed and aimless wanderings of the man searching for loved ones whom he already saw die in his hurricane-ravaged town. Still another reaction of an overwhelmed mind is to retreat into a view wherein one rationalizes the much-publicized problems of the world as some sort of fabricated propaganda. Then there are those who see the great problems of the world as the forerunners of an Apocalyptic doom of mankind which should not be interfered with or be prepared against. These people are delighted at the prospect of their neighbors and enemies being destroyed by God, and it promises to put an end to their own intolerable hatred and fear. There are also those who refuse to have any part of this society, and they choose to withdraw from involvement in it and even refuse to recognize it as being relevant to their own life style.


A common thread runs through all these people’s reactions to the pressing problems of the world— the constant bombardment of problems; the demands of evaluating conflicting remedies; the inexorable changes in every facet of life which these problems impose; the irretrievable loss of old security patterns—all combine to produce a sense of inability to cope with the world as it really is; so these people essentially do nothing or else react in some other inappropriate, non-useful manner. It constitutes a withdrawal from reality not unlike the schizophrenic’s response to the challenges of life. The inoperativeness and de­spair of the disaster victim is only a few shades removed from the bewildered ineffectiveness of vast numbers of the populace in dealing with vital issues. I feel that if this country were to suffer any major disaster or a situation calling for super effort it would instead produce apathy, hysteria, and panic. Indeed, many people subconsciously seek some sort of end soon in order to get it over with and thereby relieve their anxiety.


The angry old men who stump for an all-out atomic war now and the angry young men who court death-like experiences in drugs both seek to disarm their anxiety over death by tempting it and thus habituating themselves to it until it becomes a more comfortable and familiar companion. Both old and young try to recapture the less-troubled time of yore—the old by threats of force to make all conform; the young by adopting the clothing and beards of the mid-Victorian era and the American pioneers. They both petulantly demand simplicity in times of overwhelming complexity. When change is too rapid and human adaptability becomes too strained, then man’s psychology intervenes to resist and reject further change. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a mass reversion to simplicity in America at a time when the rest of the world is imposing increasing changes upon us. This is, of course, an emotional reaction which will override rationality even though it could lead to our own destruction.

Those who have a positive, practical plan can retain their hope and their full sanity. It is they who can preserve their mature ability to effectively cope with life while all around them are losing their heads.




Controlling Your Environment