Recently, on PBS I watched a “Brief but Spectacular” moment about a woman named Rose who had been the store manager of a small town hardware store for some thirty years. Responding to how she had been able to help customers solve problems and fix things, she explained that her parents had instilled in her the key to success. They said, “if you are smart enough to take something apart, you better be smart enough to put it back together.” For all these years she has been helping others look past their problems and find ways to their solutions. She has spent her time listening to others, unpacking their problems, analyzing the parts and collaborating with them to put things back together better than they started. Apparently, her approach has encouraged others to seek her advice over and over again.
I am reminded of similar direction that my own father gave me when I was young. He said if you have a complaint about something, I do not want to hear about it [and I will not listen] unless you also bring a possible solution. Just complaining will get us nowhere.
When I listen to Rose and couple her philosophy with that of my father, I wonder about how many people in our world today continually raise complaints, but rarely provide solutions. Many folks think it is their privilege to complain, but someone else’s responsibility to remedy the problem.
I wonder. Is that how our society is intended to work? Aren’t we are all in this together? Certainly we all have the privilege of complaining and/or disagreeing with the way things are being done. We are entitled to voice our own opinions. We can speak up in our community, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our churches and in our neighborhoods. Absolutely. But along with that privilege don’t we also have a responsibility to help solve the issue? Like Rose, if we envision ourselves as persons smart enough to dismantle things – ideas, programs, processes and the like – shouldn’t we have suggestions to put them back together? Or, if we do not, consistent with my father’s belief, maybe we shouldn’t be tearing things down in the first place. How many times have we heard the simple phrase, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem?”
A Little Courage
Often people will say, I do not know how, or I do not have the expertise to fix that. I understand that is sometimes true. But in so many cases people do have the ability to find solutions. Maybe they can not solve the entire problem, but they can contribute what they have. It seems to me that most people can “figure it out” if they will just take the time and put forth the effort. What holds them back is their unwillingness to do so. Frequently, solving a problem – rather than just complaining – is a matter of a little courage and “getting stuff done.”
When I hear folks complain about the condition of our schools; when I hear people complain about the achievement of our students; when I hear people complain about our youth causing trouble, I want to ask, “What solution have you offered? Have you volunteered to tutor? Have you volunteered to mentor? Have you volunteered to monitor the school hallways or be a “lunch buddy”? Are you part of the solution or just a naysayer?”
Get Down Off Your Horse
Don’t we have a responsibility to teach our kids (by example) that problems are for all of us to solve? In Be There Dad I wrote a fairy tale about a knight in shining armor who “got down off his horse” and showed a dad the steps to the kingdom of fatherhood. No complaining, no questioning, no finger pointing; just showing him the way. The knight’s lesson to the dad was “as you guide your children, you may no longer simply tell them what to do or give them directions; but now, you too must get down off your horse, take them by the hand and show them the way.”
I continue to look forward towards the future for our children. They will be faced with many challenges. Those challenges will be sizable enough that no one person can solve them alone. It will require them to work together. Complaining will not make their world better. Identifying issues, listening to each other, taking things apart and cooperating to reassemble them will give our children the best chance.
Stairway to the Future
Now is the time to help our children embrace their responsibilities. As role models we can be problem solvers rather than just complainers. As mentors we can guide the children. We can teach them to “take apart ” those challenges, but also to “put them back together.” It is time to get started. Dr. King told us, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” There are teachers and staff at our neighborhood schools waiting for dads to be part of their solutions. They need support in climbing the staircase to the future. They need men who are willing to give them time and effort. They need men who are willing to look at challenges as opportunities rather than complaints. They need men who have an attitude of service like Rose. The CMS Male Empowerment Network has established a framework for men to become engaged. How about taking the first step and reaching out? How about becoming a part of the solution?
If you can’t find a place to volunteer, give me a call.