Fix a Pothole

The goal of media is to make every problem, your problem.
Naval Ravikant

Today we hear about every problem around the world as it happens. We also have Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and countless other ways to voice our opinions and propose solutions to these problems. We hear about Israel and Palestine fighting each other, the Rohingya being massacred in Myanmar, governments around the world botching the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and everyone immediately knows exactly what should be done. They take to social media to opine, loudly and demandingly about their solutions.

The problem is that most of these solutions are wrong. I include myself in this as I am no exception. If your only knowledge of a situation is what you've read in the news, you are almost certainly missing important context and your proposed solution is non-workable for reasons you don't understand.

Even if your solution happened to be perfect. You have almost no chance of implementing it. Unless you are one of the handful of people who has influence in national policies, geopolitics, or business strategy at large corporations, you're just shouting into the void. The people who make those decisions are probably not going to see your tweet, and if they did, they aren't going to consider it. So, why bother?

What I propose is that instead of spending our energy coming up with half-baked solutions to problems we don't fully understand, we should instead fix a pothole.

A deep pothole with a nearby patched area

Photo by David Shankbone - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It doesn't have to be a literal pothole (although there's nothing wrong with that!), but I mean, find a discrete, concrete1 problem in your local community and set about fixing it. Call the Department of Public Works, attend a city council meeting, if all else fails get a shovel and some asphalt and go to work.

This exercise can only be beneficial.

  1. If it works, great! You've made a material improvement in your community. Your life and the life of everyone around you is now slightly better in a tangible way that no amount of posting online could ever accomplish.

  2. If it doesn't work, great! You've discovered that making changes in the real world is more complicated than you thought. Perhaps there are stakeholders you didn't consider who had to be persuaded. Perhaps the resources necessary to effect the change were not as readily available as you thought. Whatever the case it turns out actually doing things is not as simple as it seems when playing armchair-President on Twitter. This is valuable information that you can use on the next attempt.

It comes down to what Steven Covey described in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as the circle of concern vs. the circle of influence. The former is the things you're worried about, the latter is the things you can do something about. The more you focus on the changes you can actually make, the more impact you can have. This has the beneficial effect of increasing your circle of influence. The more you become known as someone who is capable of making positive changes in the world, the more opportunities you'll get to make those changes. Maybe one day you'll even end up in a position to implement your brilliant plan to bring about peace in the Middle East.

  1. Or asphalt, as it were