Tag Archives: problem solving

When your circumstances make you too stupid to deal with them properly

Heard an interview on CBC Radio 1 “The Current” with Eldar Shafir, one of the authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. What caught my attention was the idea that when the human mind is occupied with too many concerns, using up both central and peripheral cognitive bandwidth, there’s not enough margin for decent problem-solving and prioritizing, so we make dumb decisions that don’t help our situation in the long run. Shafir pointed out that while we can step away from certain concerns to get a grip–work, or a diet, for example, the poor can’t take time off from poverty (without taking a high interest loan), and so good decisions sometimes remain inaccessible. Parenting suffers too, so the poor can end up being worse parents because their brains can’t manage the complexity of all that at once. Or parenting/family relations might be the thing using up so much bandwidth, and if there are too many things demanding attention, there’s overload and a kind of paralysis.

I’m in some kind of a fog myself, and sure can’t find the bandwidth to describe it. I keep trying to get the fog lights to work, or at least low beams trained on the bit of ground right in front of me, but I can’t tell how the road curves or branches up ahead, let alone make decisions about my route. I’m trying to write it out, as usual, and dose with caffeine, but, heck–I’m in a fog. That’s all for now.


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Trying not to be such a sissy when I can’t solve a problem right away

There’s a bed stuck across my hallway and two bedroom entrances. Can’t seem to configure a way out of the puzzle, and I’m ashamed to say what a sissy I’m being about it. Every way I slide, lift, or turn it, some piece of the bed jams against a wall or door. I am bad at handling blocked pathways, physical or metaphorical. This time I’ve both blocked the pathway myself (though one can stoop and wiggle through), and been blocked numerous times by complications. I’m growling inwardly, then whimpering.

Take the bed apart is my first thought, maybe just part way–one end or one side beam. It’s a sturdy wood affair held together with bolts.Out to the garage to look for a socket wrench, and there’s further resistance to my project. Periodic irritation that that the tools are always in disorder reawakens. I mutter and rummage with a cacophony of metallic clanking and take three or four likely sockets, can’t find the proper sized wrench, to have to use a little socket driver. It works to loosen two bolts, but the third has a nut that won’t stop turning with it. Out to find crescent wrenches, but the nut’s in too deep to reach with one. I continue griping and whining. Why can’t this be a slam dunk? Why can’t people put nuts on right, and use all the same kind? It’s those problem-solving types (like my husband, but he’s off at work) that make do with what’s available, and no one else knows the system. I confess to my daughter, back from walking her dog, that I just don’t handle this well, never got to practice working problems like these as a kid (a cop out).

I feel my stress rising, know I’m not in my right mind for patiently solving the problem. Time to take my son to the community college for his math placement test anyway; he takes the wheel to get in more driving practice. I’m able to relax now, even on the freeway, forget the fears I first had driving with my teens in charge. I plan to pick up a new debit card (my purse has gone missing) and do errands, but five minutes after I drop him off he calls to say the testing center is closed for exams. This is the fifth time we’ve tried to fit this in–another blockage. Well, at least I get to hang out with him–we’ve been enjoying each other’s company more this year, especially lately. He’s willing to hang out with his brother in the car while I do what I have to do (it takes three visits to various branches until we find the one that can issue a card right away), then we get back home. I take off again to do a major grocery trip–first, Costco at rush hour. My membership card was in my purse, so I have to wait in line for a temporary pass. The woman ahead of me is being served by the only staff member available, and wants to really be sure a Costco membership is a good deal for her. After a good five minutes I exchange comments with the woman behind me, who decides she may as well skip out. But the clerk is doing his best to be informative and helpful, and feels the sense of urgency as the line gets longer, so I feel sympathy more than irritation. Finally she pays cash and goes off to have her picture taken, excited to be in the club, and I get my pass in a jiffy.

I skillfully navigate past the doorway crowd, those uncertain shoppers who are checking the special deals on socks, fake candles, generic clothing, twin toilet brush sets, and body length pillows, head down the northbound artery, slow for traffic, dart around, lengthen my stride past the housewares, and load up produce we can’t get around here, a slab of wild salmon for Friday’s dinner, some marinated mozzarella.  It’s sample time on the west side of the warehouse, and the locals and cross-border shoppers are hungry and completely blocking an aisle, waiting for some tidbits to be ready on the tray. Excuse me–I politely point out that no one can get through at all. I’m not meek when it comes to this sort of thing, assuming others will be reasonable. Could you maybe line up this way? A man apologetically explains that the vendor asked them to line up that way. They are all quietly obeying, but several people kindly let me through anyway. After a few near traffic jams I decide to park on the southbound main aisle and weave in and out on à pied for hummus, orange juice, non-GMO bread, chips, shampoo. Chocolate covered almonds (not as diligent as usual at reading those ingredients) to top it off just before arriving at what is surely the shortest checkout line.

I’m rather proud of my Costco skills. While projecting an attitude of welcome to all those Canadian shoppers crowding the store and buying up all the milk (I buy locally produced milk anyway), I cheerfully pass them all with my strategic passing and park-and-dart methods. Even if the checkout lineups are long, I relax there with my shopping done and enjoy watching people–the strong-armed and ever-cheerful cashiers, the families of recent Indian or Asian origin, the more westernized ones, anyone else who seems iherntriguing. There’s the interesting human element available, but my Costco shopping is a system, and always works.

Back home after the kids help unload, I’m faced with the bed crossways in the hall again, wrenches strewn around, and nowhere for my daughter to sleep yet. My oldest son hears me reciting the list of blockages, without that Costco can-do spirit, and offers to help. He tries to cheer me up, explains a way it can work. Instead of letting him take over and supporting, I grumble that this won’t work, that probably won’t work, and he almost slips into resentment and criticizes me for lack of listening skills, but instead says as soon as he has a bit to eat, he’ll help.

Meanwhile I’m able to get one beam off, and only one nut is defying my grip. I inwardly rebuke myself for my immaturity about this. My son comes back, but we fail to loosen the last bolt and decide to call it a night. He says it will be easy now that there’s only one side beam, and I guess I’ll believe him. Sounds like his Dad, and his grandfather, and that’s a good thing. My father-in-law just says, “There are no problems, only solutions”. Another of his favorite sayings is “You can’t learn any younger!” I’ll keep trying to take those to heart.


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