If you are not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Chances are, most of us have heard this phrase at some point during our lives. This phrase is often used in conjunction with social justice. In that context, it is most often used to encourage people to join the cause, as inaction contributes to injustice. But in some cases, it is not as easy to see the solution or where the problem lies. So how do we identify the solutions that we can join? How do we notice the problems and manage to avoid becoming a part of the larger issue? These questions are not easily answered and depend heavily on the fact pattern at hand; however, one can learn to identify problems and find solutions to create a practice of moving away from problems and contributing to their solutions. The first step in this process is learning to identify the problems in a situation. Once, the problem is identified, a person can determine if there are any solutions already available and find those, or they can suggest new solutions that may help solve the problem.
Defining the phrase “If you are not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”
Why do people commonly state that anyone not part of the solution is part of the problem? The answer is fairly straightforward—those not actively contributing to a solution are contributing to the problem because inaction allows the problem to stay stagnant. Problems exist in a way that is similar to Newton’s First Law of Motion—An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion at the same velocity unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Conflicts and problems that already exist and have power will continue to exist and have power at the same intensity, or sometimes gain intensity, until acted upon by an outside force—the solution. When we choose not to act, we lay the groundwork for the conflict to continue on the same path. Problems may only be disrupted by the unbalanced force of solutions.
The first step in becoming part of the solution is to understand what problems exist. Every person will have a different idea of what the problems are that need to be solved, but finding the problems that require your attention will help put you on the path to becoming part of the solution. There are a few tips to identify the problems that you can be a part of solving. These are:
- Start Small. When we first get the desire to become part of the solution and seek to alleviate problems around us, it is easy to see all the problems that exist in the world and wants to do something large to tackle the large problems. While this is a worthy cause, it will likely cause disappointment and anger because we cannot do enough to solve all the world’s problems. This is why it is important to find small problems in your family, your communities, or yourself that need to be addressed.
- Pay attention to what you ignore. When we are contributing to the problem, we have often created a wall to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable. Identifying the areas where this wall goes up allows us to see areas that we are actively ignoring problems and can help us identify the areas that need to be addressed.
- Look for those on the margins. Another way to be part of the solution is to look for people who are often left out of conversations or seen as less than by others in your community. People being treated this way because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or other immutable characteristics is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Becoming a Solution:
Once we identify a problem, it can feel exciting to jump right in and help contribute to the solution. However, there are a few keys considerations that need to be acknowledged, especially when we engage with problems that include the mistreatment of others. These considerations are:
- Listen first. There is a tendency for some of us to get excited about our ideas and try to share all our ideas immediately. However, in any case, we can learn a breadth of knowledge from those who have been working to alleviate the issues for some time. Learning from the wisdom that others have gathered and their experiences will help shape how you can respond to the issue.
- Check your starting point. Especially when working with marginalized groups, it is important to acknowledge how your unique experience and life have influenced you and your ability to help in this situation. Be cautious of marginalizing the very people you are seeking to encourage by your actions.
- Remember the aggregate. Your actions, on their own, may alleviate suffering or marginalization in your sphere of influence, but it takes many people doing the work around the world to achieve lasting change on a large scale.
Many people become part of the problem by simply choosing not to engage with the problems around them. This allows problems to grow and cause more violence. By identifying problems and engaging in solutions, you may stop being a part of the problem, and become a part of the solution.