How much time do you spend on proxy problems?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about proxy problems. These are the problems we spend our time solving that don’t really fix anything, because they aren’t really our real problem. They are our proxy problems that we try to solve because we think they will solve our real problem.
For instance, if you have a field that needs water, the easiest way to get water on it is for it to rain. If it doesn’t rain you have a problem because you need to now find a new way to get water on your field. A lot of people respond to this sort of problem by trying to fix the old way of solving their problem. If it isn’t raining, what can they do to make it rain. Trying to make it rain is a proxy problem precisely because the real problem is that you need water on your field.
The problem with proxy problems is that they take away time, energy and resources that could have been spent on actually solving your problems and focus those resources on solving the proxy problem and that normally doesn’t turn out too well because, well, you can’t make it rain. You can, however, find other ways to get water on your field.
Effective problem solving is all about figuring out what your real problem is so that you don’t spend time trying to solve your proxy problems. Everyone falls prey to proxy problems so don’t think that just because you are smart and read my blog that you are immune. We all waste time on proxy problems.
This is why Humanists are so fond of Freethought. It isn’t that we use it to reject religion. It’s that we use it to challenge our own assumptions about what our real problems are so that we don’t waste time on proxy problems.
The biggest skill required for Freethought is humility. Humility to admit you were wrong so that when you do figure out you’ve been focused on a proxy problem, you stop working on it and focus on the real problem you are trying to fix instead. A good example of this is Martin Pribble recent rant – I Quit. http://martinspribble.com/2013/12/a-rant-i-quit/
Time to fess up, what proxy problem have you wasted an amazing amount of time on before realizing it was a proxy problem?