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Spackling your life - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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Spackling your life [Dec. 22nd, 2005|12:15 pm]
Zoethe
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

I've come to realize of late that when people ask for advice, they frequently aren't looking for answers. They're looking for solutions.

Here's the difference: a man goes to the doctor complaining of shortness of breath and pain in his joints. He doesn't want the doc to say to him, "This is lifestyle. You need to stop smoking, get regular exercise, eat healthier and lose that pot belly." That would be an answer, a long-term answer. No, what he wants is the doc to write him a prescription that will stop the pain and mask the symptoms so that he can believe he is cured.

About 75% of modern medical research is aimed at solutions, because answers are so much harder to live with. Answers involve accepting the consequences of one's past actions and anticipating the consequences of future decisions. If people were willing to accept answers, the tobacco industry and the fast food industry would both be brought to their knees. But neither has much to worry about, because answers are too inconvenient for most people.

And people are just as unwilling to accept answers for their personal problems. The guy who moans to you that he doesn't understand why he can't get a date doesn't really want to hear that he needs a personality makeover and a lot more attention to hygiene; he just wants you to hook him up with someone who will accept him as he is. The woman who can't believe her mother/daughter/sister/father is so stupid about [fill-in-the-blank] and is ruining the holidays by being so obstinate does not want you to point out the ways in which she may be contributing to the problem, or suggest that the olive branch is hers to extend; she wants you to take her side, and if you have any clout with the other party to pressure that person into seeing things her way. The person who is complaining that their significant other is mistreating them does not like you to suggest either that their position as doormat may be contributing to the problem, or that they are being a total brat in the face of someone who loves them and is trying very hard to be accommodating. They just want you to agree with them (and maybe offer a solution in the way of intimacy that could only be termed as infidelity).

We all do it at times. There are times when you just want to vent about a situation that you know you got into for all the wrong reasons. And when people offer answers instead of solutions, it's hard to look at the work involved without despairing. But it is necessary to live a sane, rational life.

People who claim to be looking for advice frequently want nothing to do with answers. They're just looking for a magic bullet, that pill that will make them feel better and let them go on making the same mistakes without suffering any further consequences for their actions. I have seen people get very angry when answers are offered instead of solutions. Having had my head bitten off for pointing out how a bad situation resulted from bad choices is no fun, and I'm inclined not to stick my head back in that lion's mouth.

Alas, there is a word for people who willingly offer solutions rather than answers: enablers.

I wish I had a wise conclusion for this, but I'm on the stage without the wow finish. I'm learning to recognize solution seekers, and not to give into their desires. If you ask me for advice, you're going to get my perception of the harsh reality. Which may be utter nonsense. But it's at least worth thinking about.

The best answer I ever got was from my doctor, a year ago when I was pushing toward grotesquely obese. He said, "You have to decide if you are comfortable and happy and able to do the things you want to do." No lecture, no guilt trip, but also no patting me on the hand and telling me that there was a pill to fix my problem. I had my answer, as unpleasant as it was: no. I could go on trying to justify it as bad genes, bad parenting, modern society, whatever. Or I could take responsibility.

Solutions are a bandaid. Look for answers.
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Comments:
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From: satyrlovesong
2005-12-22 05:20 pm (UTC)
Well said.
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[User Picture]From: sacramentalist
2005-12-22 05:25 pm (UTC)
I like the phrase "Spackling your life".

Unfortunately, people prefer easy answers. I know I do.
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From: noumignon
2005-12-23 12:30 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, people prefer easy answers. I know I do.

Of course you do. Easy answers are cheaper. They're better. "Answers" are the crap we get stuck doing when no one has come up with a real solution.
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[User Picture]From: shadefell
2005-12-22 05:28 pm (UTC)
This was a well written and thought-provoking piece. Thanks a lot.

So, when you and The Ferrett fell in love, it wasn't just the blinding physical attraction of two studs but in addition a meeting of two fantastic minds? Awww.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 05:29 pm (UTC)
We knew each other on Compuserve for almost 5 years before any relationship developed, so I'd say it was definitely minds first!
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[User Picture]From: also_huey
2005-12-22 05:33 pm (UTC)
Rock on with your bad self, lady.
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[User Picture]From: fujerica
2005-12-22 05:42 pm (UTC)
yeah I'm guilty of both asking for spackle and giving spackle. I give good spackle. OKay that does sound odd.

I think there are times when an "answer" and a "solution" can co-exist peacefully. Nothing comes to mind right now, of course, when I'm CALLING FOR IT, but I'll be going to sleep tonight and suddenly be like, "AND THIS is an example of which..."

I have more to say but I don't know how to say it quite yet. I may be re-replying.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, there are times when you NEED spackle - a solution for a crisis, instead of a long, belly-button examination exercise. But it's not healthy to just stay there.

I have been a spackler for years. Slather over them problems. I'm still learning not to be.
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-12-22 05:53 pm (UTC)
I know quite a few people who don't want solutions, either. So they avoid seeking them.

Unless "ignoring the problem" is considered a solution or answer.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:04 pm (UTC)
It's a kind of solution. But amost never an answer. Unless the problem they are ignoring isn't really their own to begin with.
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[User Picture]From: kyburg
2005-12-22 05:56 pm (UTC)
Wisdom indeed. I'm afraid I truly lose my patience with people who never get down to the bottom of issues they have; often, I've had to say "unless you get a plan together to deal with it, I can't listen to the complaining anymore."

I get called cold and heartless for it. *shrug* Well.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:05 pm (UTC)
And you don't understand them. Because their way has to be right.

I have that t-shirt, too!
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From: dogens_zen
2005-12-22 06:08 pm (UTC)

Not to totally derail the discussion.....

...but I would argue that you can tell which life coaches/spiritual teachers are truly about helping you help yourself and which are charlatans by applying the same insight.

This struck me because I think the reason Buddhism is appealing to some (but not to most) is that the Buddha pointed clearly at the root causes of our misery and prescribed fundamental change to address these. This is powerful if you can accept it, but off-putting if you're looking for a simple "hallelujah" moment.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 07:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Not to totally derail the discussion.....

It's easier to take no responsibility if this life means nothing, that's true.
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[User Picture]From: vespurrs
2005-12-22 06:09 pm (UTC)
Thought-provoking post. I think this is something that we're all probably aware of on some subconscious level, but perhaps don't actually think about until it's pointed out like this. The differences between the two - answers v. solutions - can be subtle. Very interesting.
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[User Picture]From: happydog
2005-12-22 06:13 pm (UTC)
you got that right.

And I tell you what: there is no "wow finish" to this particular quandary. A lot of times, people have to exhaust all the solutions before they will go for an answer, and that is very, very human. I see it a lot.

If you ever do come up with a wow finish, let me know, because we can collaborate on a book, put articles in a few professional journals, and start rakin' in the dough. :D
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 07:10 pm (UTC)
We can bilk everything with our simple solutions to finding answers!
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[User Picture]From: dubheach
2005-12-22 06:13 pm (UTC)
When issues are something you don't want to deal with....
(One of) my sons doesn't want a job, or responsibility, he just wants to sleep all day.
I'm still "comfortable, and happy, and able to do the things I want to do." so I ignore his problem. Actually is it a problem if sleeping all day makes him comfortable and happy and the only thing that actually makes us unhappy is many of our friends and family constantly saying he should be doing something?

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:27 pm (UTC)
Depends. How old is the son? And are you ignoring because you have confidence that he will get past it, or are you ignoring to avoid confrontation?
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[User Picture]From: springdew
2005-12-22 06:18 pm (UTC)
You really make the point, and make it well. I stuck this in my "wisdom" memories.

On an especially hands-on level, this also applies to my people at work. I've been trying to get it through my colleagues' heads that we need to develop leadership and problem solving among our team leaders, and help them get off the kick of just answering questions straight out, so that THEY can develop problem solving skills within their teams. But my colleagues are every bit as much enablers, and the rot goes on and on.

Everyone wastes everyone else's time with stupid questions, and everyone gets dumber and dumber for not exercising their minds. Meanwhile, the customer waits ...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:52 pm (UTC)
Ya just wanna scream....
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2005-12-22 06:34 pm (UTC)
Mother of gods, this is all so true that it almost aches to read.
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[User Picture]From: sarapada
2005-12-22 06:43 pm (UTC)
People who claim to be looking for advice frequently want nothing to do with answers. They're just looking for a magic bullet...

I'm just learning, as in the last month or two, that this is me. And I'm trying SO hard not to be that way. I've actually been using that phrase, "magic bullet," to describe what keeps me from acting right away on my problems; I'm stalling, hoping that the easy answer will magically appear. I figure that awareness of the problem is a good first step toward taking care of it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 06:51 pm (UTC)
Recognizing it is the first uncomfortable step toward doing something about it. Congrats. Keep going.
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[User Picture]From: noshot
2005-12-22 06:52 pm (UTC)
I am a constructive-criticism-starved person. I'd love it if people advised me on how to improve, but instead they either demean me or they just pretend like nothing's wrong. Either way, I'm left guessing.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 07:12 pm (UTC)
People not wanting to hurt your feelings are, in many ways, your worst enemy....
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[User Picture]From: malabar
2005-12-22 07:52 pm (UTC)
I was just thinking about this earlier today. I have several friends who are solution-seekers, and I am an answer provider. One of these once discounted something I suggested with,"It's a quality of life issue for me". I figured out that this really means "I can't be bothered to change my lifestyle to address this issue".
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[User Picture]From: greybeta
2005-12-22 08:38 pm (UTC)
A good solution, Mrs. Ferrett. I will make this one of my links of the day.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: safebox
2005-12-22 08:42 pm (UTC)
Oh God, thank you so much - this is exactly what I've been attempting to explain to myself for about a week.

Sadly, I don't want to move from searching for a solution to searching for an answer. I know exactly what the answer is, but I don't want to follow it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 09:03 pm (UTC)
And you know, that's your choice. And there are times in life when you really do want to make that choice.

Just don't go around being a pain in the ass to others because they can't provide you a solution. Because frequently there is no good solution, only an answer.

Good luck with whatever your issue is.
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[User Picture]From: stripedsocks
2005-12-22 08:53 pm (UTC)
This is awesomely worded. I know a bunch of people (like my mother, for example) who are spacklers and it's gotten to the point that I've mostly removed myself from associating with them. Not that I'm perfect! I spackle on occasion and I'll be the first to admit it. I agree, though, that it's important to continue to try to look beyond the spackle.

Hello, btw. I found you because you were on the friends list of a bunch of people on my friends list. I hope you don't mind that I've added you.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 09:04 pm (UTC)
Um, I thought I'd said hi, but apparently LJ ate my response! (solution)

Honestly, I think I forgot to click "send" before I clicked "delete." (answer)

;-)
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[User Picture]From: oceansedge
2005-12-22 09:11 pm (UTC)
Ok! Ok! Already! I'm friending you cause theferrett said I should! *snerk* .. Really *sigh* there is only so long I can ignore wisdom like this.

This reminds me of my own discussions with many friends... I seem to have a myriad of autism, aspergers, bi-polars, and schizo-affective people amongst my friends, ... about the difference between 'the survivors' and 'the walking wounded'... and the importance as a caring compassionate empathic type person of distinguishing between the two.

The survivors are just that, they survive, they struggle and fight to get through every day, and sometimes they could use a hand up, or a shoulder to lean on, but they never QUIT.

The walking wounded on the other hand, have no interest in moving forward, let alone upwards, they gave up a long time ago. They're carrying around 100 tonne of baggage and looking for the nearest person to hand it to. If you're not careful it ends up being you. They take no responsibility for their own wellness, they try their hardest to make their getting better or worse someone else's responsibility, and NON of us can carry that weight.

So we have to be careful, and draw our own lines of HOW much we're willing to do for others, and how much responsibility we're willing to take for them. Honestly, for those who keep fighting, keep trying, keep working at being weller every day, I'll stick with em forever. Those who've given up on themselves, and are trying to take the rest of us with em... I've got no time for em.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 09:15 pm (UTC)
I've tried to carry people before. In the end, the user drown you and then thrashes off to his or her next victim. You definitely have the right idea.
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[User Picture]From: call_me_deb
2005-12-22 09:17 pm (UTC)
Well said.

Solutions are not the answer. ~ Richard Nixon
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[User Picture]From: dawntreader90
2005-12-22 09:36 pm (UTC)
there are times when you have to say to the person "if you're not going to try following my advice, stop asking me for it." otherwise, you get dragged down and depressed right along with them.
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[User Picture]From: flirtaciousj
2005-12-22 10:16 pm (UTC)
I have seen people get very angry when answers are offered instead of solutions. Having had my head bitten off for pointing out how a bad situation resulted from bad choices is no fun, and I'm inclined not to stick my head back in that lion's mouth.

I largely agree with this entry, but this juxtaposition didn't go past me smoothly - so I'm offering what I think is a clarification. Recounting how a person got to their situation is not the same thing as providing an answer. Sometimes the answer requires some acknowledgment of how the person got to where they are, but sometimes it doesn't. Even if a person is facing a bad living situation because of poor relationship decisions, saying "You know, you really f'd up when you moved in with [x]" may well be true, but not really helpful in providing an answer to how the friend gets his/her feet back on the ground. Later, when dealing with future relationships, maybe. But now while putting basic pieces together.
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[User Picture]From: foogod
2005-12-22 10:59 pm (UTC)
(Hiho.. I don't know folks here but I popped over here from a link in kyburg's journal..)

I was about to comment when I saw this, which seems to say much of what I was going to. On the other side of the issue, one needs to be very careful to understand the difference between an answer and an explanation. Detailing exactly how the situation came about is not necessarily the same as providing useful advice on how to correct the situation.

Also, in many cases, what people are looking for is not necessarily a solution, but simply a way to address the problem they haven't already tried and failed at. Looking for an easier way in light of one's own recognized limitations is not necessarily a character flaw, as sometimes there are other ways to fix the fundamental issues which are just not as obvious. This can, however, lead to a lot of frustration if all everybody offers are the same obvious answers over and over again instead of expending the effort to try to help find alternate approaches.

Giving advice must always be a two-way street, in which both parties work together to try to find solutions, or it is rarely productive, regardless of what's actually being said.
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[User Picture]From: xinejaquette
2005-12-22 10:24 pm (UTC)
Kurt and I reached more or less the same conclusion.

We could keep complaining about the economy here in California or we got move to Oregon.

We struggled in Santa Cruz for a long time before we moved on to Monterey.

We are tired of struggling and we are looking for better long term solutions.

Of course, we also realize that life will continue to be fluid once we move to Oregon and further decisions will have to be made on a case by case basis.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-23 05:20 am (UTC)
Life decisions like that are hard. You have to be brave.

I wish you happiness and success.
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[User Picture]From: jenkitty
2005-12-22 10:26 pm (UTC)
Here via kyburg.

This was a very difficult piece for me to read, because I am right now working on finding answers in my life instead of solutions. I know that it's not going to be easy, painless, or quick, and I may still lose friends. But one of my friends described one particular situation quite clearly... "armed truce." I don't know what all the issues are, which indicates to me that some of them are with me and I can't see them. But we're all going to sit down and talk things out.

It makes my stomach hurt to think about it. I'm scared as hell.

Thank you for writing this. It's going in my Memories.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-12-22 11:57 pm (UTC)
It's terrifying. I admire your courage. Good luck.
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