“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Complaining is incredibly contagious. Water cooler talk, teachers’ lounge loose lips, bitch sessions, venting, unloading, releasing. We all do it. Frankly, we probably all need to sometimes.
It’s natural to have a desire to release emotions and events and share something you don’t want to carry on your own. It’s natural to point out problems in one’s world. Surely, there’s enough to talk about, you could be occupied all day.
There are entire websites and even departments of organizations dedicated to complaints. If you have a complaint for the Baltimore City Police Department, you can call, email, write and mail a letter, or go in person. I shudder to think of the traffic of this website (for the curious, it’s Comcast’s own).
In an episode of This American Life, Sarah Koenig’s mother lists what she believes are The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About. Her list includes: period, diet, health, sleep, dreams, money, and route talk. In the show, Sarah tackles these topics and tries to find stories that her mom will find interesting that are about these topics. I have to say, I freakin’ love Sarah’s mom. When she elaborates why each item is boring, her first reason is pretty much “nobody cares” and secondly, though she doesn’t point this out in an explicit way, they’re all complaints. While I am with Sarah and I admit there are exceptions to these topics always involving complaints, I too believe there are exceptions that can be interesting. But overall, Sarah’s mom is my “Spirit Brit.”
Complaining is necessary, sometimes. But solutions are just better. And by god are they more interesting! I don’t write this to dissuade you from sharing your woes with me–in fact, I like when friends and family turn to me. But, expect me to immediately launch into solution-mode. That’s what I do. Aside from real tragedies, I will not tolerate you whining. You wanna wallow? I am not your girl. Because we will move right to plans A, B, and C.
Being solution-minded is not easy. It requires an intense level of persistence, a generous scoop of naïveté, layers and layers of optimism, quarts of ingenuity, a wide range of humans to discuss with, a smattering of yoga, and obviously, at least one legitimate problem. For most of us, the problem is the easiest part.
My maternal grandfather was a complicated and a complex person (I had to look up the difference). Without getting into the network of details that made him that way, I will explain only why he relates to this piece. When Grandpop spotted a problem (as first-world as it was), he would solve it. The ceramic rooster in the kitchen looked too dull? He spent half a day shellacking it. Need to work on the car but there’s no place to put the portable phone when you’re in the driveway? He created a phone cradle which was a wooden cup lined with carpet that he screwed right into the outside brick wall. (Non-sequitur: it occurs to me now that he must have had his own masonry drill.) Not sure where the tools go? He created his own map on the basement wall with outlines for each of his tools to hang in the most correct spot. When the creepy doll that sat on the edge of the shelf next to the fridge kept getting knocked down, he superglued it to its perch. He created curtains for the windows in his shed. Solutions.
My mom must have inherited this from her father but in a much different realm. Earlier this week, her name was in print in the Baltimore Sun with an idea for our squeegee boys. The mayor is about to invest $2 million in guards for the boys who wipe windows at intersections. I like the squeegee boys. I like asking them about their lives. I enjoy offering them granola bars and I ask them to help me with the murkiness of the inside of my windshield because my heating and AC are broken. That said. It’s a bit much. We all have windshield wipers and wiper fluid and you know, we need the windshield to be transparent enough to even drive to the very spot where the squeegee boys are. So here’s Nancy’s solution. It was on WBAL radio several times the next day because multiple radio hosts loved and had to share her idea.
I’m in a business of solutions. Children come to us in all stages of joy and trauma and energy and depression and obsessive and withdrawn. We ball up all of this, and we try to help. Generally, people who work in schools (and actually work) are maybe best labeled as solutionists. Teachers do much more than teach. Assistants do much more than assist. Principals do much more than prince. We are in the business of youth solutions. That’s not to say that our kids are broken, but navigating the world for the first time is basically just a never-ending series of problem-solving situations. Just between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, I encountered the following: talking a Jehovah’s Witness through the process of reading about Greek mythology because she was failing ELA; finagling a field trip to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (still working on this); talking a parent down in hysterics WHO ALSO WRITES IN ALL CAPS; hosting math tutors for girls who are failing 7th grade math; scolding scholars about the safety issue of being 12 minutes late for Crochet Club; attempting to fill the gap of a music program by organizing a singing group with another school; selling three hoodies to scholars who are cold in the building; and so on and so on. Are you planning on being late for Crochet Club–do you need my services?
Baltimore is not a place for the problem-minded. It is fortunately a place for the solution-minded. An orientation to solution-mindedness is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking.
Two of my least favorite sentence starters are “They should really…” or “Why don’t they…?” Because, honestly, who in the holy fuck are they?
You are they. I am they. We are all they. He, she, it are all they. They is even they.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama.
If you see a problem and you want to talk about it, fine. But then talk about the solution. There’s nothing more unattractive about a person than complaining without seeking a way out, no matter how tiny the pinprick. And for most of the people reading this piece, I’d imagine the problems we encounter have solutions or at the very least, management strategies.
The next time you’ve got a complaint, see if you can do something about it. Because, sure, complaining is contagious. But couldn’t solutions be too?
Something I love about children is that they’re still flexible. You can still convince them that not all is lost. That problems can be solved. That solutions do exist. And I think, this is often a disappearing art for adults. Somewhere along the way we lose that belief in solutions like we lose our belief in the tooth fairy. And that, my adult friends, is something we can all stand to learn from children.