How can we fix the world’s big problems?

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It’s going to be you, my little darlings, who will be fixing the big problems. I’m sorry I didn’t get it done, at least not yet. Like a lot of people, I have frittered away endless chances to fix things while shopping for low-calorie dog food and odorless magic markers.

Be brave.

I remember my grandfather shaking his head and tisking, “What will people ever do with Africa? It is so fucked up.” The continent was a real mess when he said that, thirty years ago, and while it’s still having some horrible conflicts, there are a lot of peaceful and steadily improving countries. Despite his dire predictions, I would no more give up on Africa than I would give up on Baltimore.

Fixing big problems is a big job but there are things that even one person can do, so don’t get too discouraged that you can’t entirely eradicate injustice or somethinglikethat. Some people will tell you that one person can’t do anything and I’d recommend that you ignore them. Or you could point out that it’s a good thing they aren’t speaking to Harriet Tubman.

Your efforts matter, especially when you feel the most foolish about them. 

Recognizing a problem really is the first step. The rate at which unrecognized problems get fixed is probably tiny. Sure it can happen, but you might not want to count on it. Just like droughts could be made irrelevant by earthquakes, you can’t let seismology take care of everything for you. Why not study that problem and look for opportunities instead?

Researching and really understanding the problem is going to help you make the most of your efforts. The problem is almost certainly not unique and unprecedented, so try to find out what has worked before. Nothing is more aggravating than watching someone wrestle with reinventing the bicycle right next door to the bike shop.

The research is where I expect you will excel. So many people are communicating freely across space (and time!) that any far-flung or arcane solution to the problem at hand is more likely than ever to find its way to the people seeking answers. You don’t have to trek across town for a Greek translator. If you’re reading this on a computer, a basic translator is right there, and you don’t have to buy it lunch!!

Do your homework because it’s not likely to jump in your brain on its own.

If you skip the research,  you run a very significant risk of working against your goal. Usually the simplest action, like reflexively giving a donation to a dodgy entity, is not only wasting your resources but likely to be counter to your objective, if nothing else because you could have chosen better. Unfortunately, real solutions take time and patience and planning.

If you are bringing your mission into your daily interactions, keep it simple and keep it kind. If your big objective isn’t something that will improve things for everyone, are you sure you have the best goal?

No kindness is wasted, and no careful thought is wasted either, I bet.

Find a way to make it easy for people to help with your solutions. Never forget that people are lazy and you’ll never be disappointed by working along with their laziness. Study them, and really understand their language and their cultural predilections. Speak their language, but listen even more.

Don’t waste your energy arguing with people who aren’t helping you or trying to convince them to get aboard. Build a ramp to your thing and serve cookies. If they still won’t get aboard, it’s not your fault. Move on. Find more people who are pointing in your direction.

Understand where you are as well as where you are headed.

If, while you are worrying and thinking about all these big problems, you don’t have the energy to tackle the enormity of it all, know that you’re not alone.

Many of us can only deal with the problems that are right in front of us, those creatures demanding dog food or other forms of attention right now.

That’s okay.

The little problems take the same steps.

  • Be brave
  • Remember that your efforts matter
  • Do your homework
  • Be kind
  • Understand

You got this.


2 Replies to “How can we fix the world’s big problems?”

  1. Did you see Valarie Kaur’s TED Talk on revolutionary love? Fits down your alley. Be brave and love yourself, your opponents and the people directly around you!


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