When I was thirteen years old, my cousin tutored me in math, teaching me Geometry. We would go over to my grandpa’s house, gather a couple of chairs around a table in the rumpus room, and get to work. On one such occasion, working through problems in the book, we came across a difficult puzzle. I don’t remember the exact problem, only that it had something to do with shooting a hockey puck so that it gets past the goalie and into the net- and that it was really hard. I couldn’t figure it out. She couldn’t figure it out. It was apparent that she was a bit frustrated (as was I) with my questions and requests for clarification of the concepts we were studying in the problem, because it wasn’t making any sense. My cousin, having no other recourse, started talking through a couple of lines of reasoning she could maybe use to solve it. Math scribbles covered the paper. Lines of thought were followed, then abandoned when it was apparent they were incorrect. Lots and lots of writing. No solution. Frustration.
I asked her in my frustration, at one point, how all of the “impressive-looking math” helps us when it wasn’t getting us closer to the problem’s solution. My cousin ran a hand through her hair and I’ll never forget what she told me. It was something along the lines of, “I don’t know how to do this. But I’m trying. And sometimes, you have to do a lot of ‘impressive-looking math’ to try and figure out something that works.”
Lo and behold, however many more minutes passed without fruit, eventually, she came up with the right answer, and understanding followed like a wave. A wise man once said that despair is the refusal to struggle. I refused on that day. My cousin did not. She figured out the problem.
I share this story, because I have heard a lot of talks and read a lot of articles recently (really in the past several years) that seem to have a common theme: ‘There isn’t always a solution.’ ‘Stop trying to fix it.’ ‘Don’t say that to him/her/etc.’ ‘That’s just how things are.’ Something has sort of been bubbling up inside of me with the addition of more and more such expositions, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
Let me not be misunderstood. Empathy is a good thing. It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is absolutely the case. Love must come first, and it must be sincere. If someone comes to me with a problem, the first thing I’m going to do is not sit them down and tell them all of the things they did wrong. Of course they need a shoulder to cry on. Of course I will (hopefully) provide that to them. That said, this is often viewed as the proper end of things, and I don’t think that it is. I see a lot of back-patting, and not a lot of change. I think sincere love for each other has to go further than this.
I don’t know when we all tacitly agreed that fixing things is bad form, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Frankly, I have problems, and I want them to get better. I very often am in uncertainty about some of them. I can’t always see the solution, but I think it’s better to struggle than to despair. When I have an issue and I take it to someone, open arms are great, and I need that, and everyone needs that. But if there’s a solution, I want to hear it. I want to be reminded of truth, I want to be reminded of what I know but my circumstances have obscured. Perhaps it is the impertinence of my youth, but I want answers.
We’re often told that there aren’t any. I don’t believe that. I think that there is not a problem in this world that does not have a solution. It very often might not look the way I think it ought to, but there is always a solution. There is always an answer, even if I don’t know it.
I was told recently that recipes are great in the kitchen, but if the lights go out, they’re worthless. I agree and I disagree. If I’ve memorized the recipe, it still does me a great deal of good. If someone in the next room has it in front of them and they’ve got a lamp on, it’s still helpful.
I’m not talking about cheap solutions and heartless “shut up and get better”isms. What I am talking about is the courage to seek healing where it looks like there can’t be any, to keep looking for a solution when it seems like you’ve exhausted every avenue, to keep fighting when it looks like you’re beat. Sometimes I don’t have the answer- but there is one. Sometimes I can’t do it myself- but someone can.
In short, I am not satisfied with mere empathy. I want answers. I want truth.