3 Critical Questions to Solve Significant Problems

The COVID19 pandemic is radically changing our world. Many of the businesses, restaurants, and practices we enjoyed will disappear completely. Others will be suspended for some time. Even when they return, they will be altered. Make no mistake, we will never return to the normal lives we had previously.

Those that follow MurfieldCoaching.com know that I’m not a political extremist, in fact, I seldom write about a political perspective. Instead, I write and work to solve significant problems with compassion, communication, and collaboration.

To successfully navigate the current pandemic and create a successful future, we need to ask three critical questions. Who have we been? Who have we become? Who are we willing to become?

To successfully navigate the current pandemic and create a successful future, we need to ask three critical questions. Who have we been? Who have we become? Who are we willing to become? Those that follow MurfieldCoaching.com know that I’m not a political extremist, in fact, I seldom write about a political perspective. Instead, I write and work to solve significant problems with compassion, communication, and collaboration.

The 3 Questions

During the shutdown, when our movement and actions were restricted, we asked ourselves, “What can I do?” “Where can I go?” and “How do I need to act?” We also asked, “When will I be safe?” and “Who will make those decisions?” Those are critical questions but there are three questions that are even more important as we look into the future, “Who have are we?” “Who have we been?” and “Who are we going to be?”

 Notice that we shift from questions about “what,” “when,” “where” and “how.” You might ask, “why? Why do I need to change who I am?”

In easy times, we are not stretched. Life is easy so success doesn’t take much effort. We don’t have to work very hard to meet the minimum. But in Tough Times, we must work much harder to get half as much. Restaurants were shut down and when they did reopen, guests didn’t feel safe dining in public. Restaurant owners had to work harder to find ways to make their establishments safe and their customers feel safe. They also had to work much harder to get those customers back into their restaurants. That was no easy task when margins are slim to begin with.

The challenge to succeed in Tough Times requires that we not only examine what, when, how, but why we need to change. Some assumed we could just go back to what we were doing prior to the pandemic. We must change because Tough Times change us. We won’t be the same people coming out of the pandemic as when we went in. Tough Times push us farther and harder. They push us into new situations that demand we refocus our efforts and resources. Tough times make us shift our behaviors and, in the process, we often find we like some of those new ways better than the old.

Look back in history to see how Tough Times changed us. The 9-11 terrorist attacks changed our approach to airline safety. Most than that, we as Americans were no longer naïve about terrorism. It was no longer a foreign problem, it was a domestic one. It didn’t matter whether we liked it or not, our world would never go back to that idyllic mindset.

Tough Times change what we do, as well as when and how we behave. But there is a much more important question we must ask going forward, “How have the Tough Times changed who we are?” Asking the “who” question is critical for leading and succeeding in the future.     

Included in the “who” question are three specific questions that we are wise to answer honestly.  

Who have we been?

Times of crisis test us. They challenge us to be our best, rising up to take the necessary action to solve the significant problem. These moments challenge us to take our game to a new level, recognizing what is important, and who the world needs us to be. We need to stand taller than we have in the past. This is the moment when our legacies are shaped, like an individual on the sinking Titanic who works feverishly to fill the lifeboats, not push others aside so they can row off by themselves. Times of trauma are a test of character.

Ask yourself,

  • Who have I been?
  • Have I been the self-centered individuals that only focus on “my rights?” or the individuals who show concern for others?
  • To what extent have I worked to solve problems?

Who have we become?

Tough Times often reveal who we have become. On the positive side, many have done incredible things. Medical professionals, industry leaders, restaurateurs, to name a few, have all given sacrificially. Think of how great we would be if we all thought and behaved like they have shown themselves to be.

However, we don’t need to look far to see the other side. I cringe to say this, but I seriously think we as a culture have become a selfish, calloused people. Too many only care for their own needs. Too many refuse to wear a mask and sound like Patrick Henry saying, “Give me liberty (the right not to wear a mask) or give me death” when required to do so. Too many deny science and authority to protect their ego or the people we have elected. We have become a stupid nation unwilling to do what the rest of the world has done to survive this pandemic. We have become stagnant thinkers who continue to deny the problem.

I wish we were different.

In the midst of this pandemic, we finally have to face racial unrest that has been boiling for at least 2 centuries. What has taken so long? Why can’t we get rid of the bad cops and support the good ones? Why must we continue to live with prejudicial attitudes? Why have we been so unwilling to solve these problems?

We have show that we are not a compassionate culture. Our politics reflects who we have become, polarized extremists demanding our own way. We favor “my rights” over “our best future.”

Ask yourself,

  • What have I become?
  • Why have I become by remaining silent?
  • What have I become by not initiating a solution to the significant problem?

What am I willing to become?

The political, racial, and ideological polarities have persisted because “we” preferred “my extreme” over “our common good.” Complicated problems are solved with a balance between the extremes. The solution to racial unrest doesn’t come from just the black or the white perspective. It takes working together, negotiating, compromising, and most importantly, collaborating toward a mutual gain. The same is true for the political divide on Capitol Hill. The extremists on either side are not going to solve our problems. This pandemic and racial unrest has shown that the extreme Republicans can’t solve it their way. But don’t be duped, allowing the pendulum to swing to the liberal extreme won’t solve it either. Look at Seattle and CHOP. It didn’t work. Instead, a balanced approach is needed to be worked out.

That is who we need to be come. We need to become the compassionate people who notice the pain of others and then feel for the other from their perspective. That’s empathy. Making jokes about others isn’t being empathetic, even if they are making illogical choices. We need to be more empathetic.

But it can’t stop with empathy. We must become compassionate, blending empathy with appropriate action, to strategically solve the problem. The liberals often fail because they feel for someone in pain and then try to solve it by giving that person something. While that is generous, it often doesn’t solve the problem. Compassion is helping the person alleviate their own pain.  Compassion is collaborative in that the other person must be willing to help solve their own problem. We work together to solve their problem. In that end, that helps them and it changes us. We become what we are capable of becoming. Compassion helps us solve our significant problems.

Make no mistake, there is room for a balanced approach. As Jonathan Haidt detailed in The Righteous Mind, we can focus on all five of our moral foundations. We can show care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and maintain a sacredness. But it takes balance which comes through respect and listening. It takes asking the difficult questions about who we want to become.

Ask yourself,

  • Who am I willing to become to solve our significant problems?
  • How compassionate am I willing to become?
  • How will that change who we as a nation can become?

(c) 2020 Murfield International, Inc. All rights reserved.

Learn to Listen Effectively




Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

Dr. Murfield holds a PhD in Communication and works with leaders and organizations to solve significant problems with innovative thinking. What problem is frustrating you? Contact us today.

Check out my two podcasts, “Holy Crap, How’d They Do That?” and “Trends, Bends & Opportunities.”

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