Problem Solving

 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40

There is one word that I have been hearing more of since the pandemic has started.  This word and its connotations have always been a part of our western culture, but it has now been evoked to staggering proportions in recent months.  

This one little word has cause family rifts, marital problems, and dysfunctional employment workplaces. It is the most divisive word in the English language.  Evoking it will instantly cause anger, irritation, and bitterness.  It is also highly contagious, where, if you hear it enough towards you in any single day, you start using it more than necessary.  It can break hearts, destroy families and cause you to harbor bitterness toward those you love.

It is only a small word and a complete sentence at the same time.  The word is NO!

Now, I KNOW that NO is essential to our everyday life.  As a parent, NO is one of my greatest weapons, a simple word that expresses my wishes implicitly.  I have NO problem with NO in that context.  My gripe with society, it is used to benefit those who are lazy.

The other day I was at a local grocery store that is very popular in the area, let us call it SICK & GRAVE.  I went there for basic supplies that allow three grown men with Autism to coexist peacefully with their parents.  The youngest required milk (enough for a 16 oz glass at least eight times a day).  The Middle required Diet Lemon-Lime Soda (4 cans a day) and the oldest needed more potato chips in a stack form (1 can a day) In addition, I also grabbed essentials that will keep Mom and Dad happy while dealing with all of the above.

When I went to get the soda, there were only two cases of the kind that he really likes (as opposed to the other brand that he kind of likes).  I plucked the two cases off the shelf and noticed that an end on one was opened.  I placed it upright in my cart, picked up two of the lesser liked kind, and proceeded to finish my list.

After completing my task, I went to the checkout.  I placed my items on the belt, carefully upending the open case. “Do you have any tape to fix this case?”  I asked the clerk when it appeared to be the next item scanned.  I was rewarded with a simple and flat “NO”.

“No, you don’t have any tape or NO, I can’t have any?”

“I ain’t got none” was the grunted response.  Ignoring my need to correct his grammar, I decided that sympathy was the best approach.

“Well, I don’t see how I’m going to get them home, when they fall out and roll all over the trunk…” 

“You can go get another one” he grunted.

Instead of explaining their lack of inventory, the true meaning of CUSTOMER SERVICE, or wondering aloud how a multi-million dollar company functions without any kind of adhesive tape, I simply watched with amusement as he picked up the case, turned it sideways to scan the bar code, and dumped all the cans onto the belt.  He looked at me briefly, a hint of anger in his eyes as if the entire exchange was somehow my fault.  And tossed the empty box down the belt after the cans.  The bag boy dutifully replaced the cans in the box and placed them back in my cart in the upright position.  I thanked him and mentally thought that he was going to be the future CEO.

Later in the week, I had a similar encounter at a fast-food chain.  Those same three Men with autism are very strict on routines, especially when it comes to meals.  On Sunday, after church, we frequent that wonderful Scottish franchise.  Now, the Men have their usuals, an order that has not deviated for over 20 years!  The Middle one requires french fries, a hamburger, brown soda, chicken nuggets, and a toy, even though he just turned 27.  On this particular Sunday, our family did online church, so I went to get our lunch order.

The first place I went to was boarded up, which was disconcerting since the mobile app had accepted our order for that location.  I canceled the order and went to the next nearest place, a mile away.  As I was giving my order,  I was informed that they were out of four-piece chicken nuggets happy meals.  This had confused me since I had just ordered two 10 piece meals for my wife and youngest.

“Are you out of nuggets?”  I asked.

“No, we’re out of 4 piece boxes,” was the response, followed by some uncomfortable silence that indicated the next verbal volley was mine.

“Do you have 6 piece boxes?”

“Yes.  Do you want a 6 piece meal instead?”

“Can you put 4 pieces in a 6 piece box?”  The silence came back and a mental image of their head exploding flashed through my brain.  

“No” was the eventual answer.

“I think you can if you try hard enough.  Why don’t you go ask the manager?”  There was a full minute of silence, followed by an affirmation that 4 pieces of chicken nuggets would indeed fit into a 6 piece container.  With the order complete, I pulled around to the window to pay and collect my prizes.  In the first window was a young lady with a headset, sitting in front of a slightly older young lady pointing things out to her on the screen.  I paid and proceeded to the next window.  

The young man gave me my order, patiently explaining to me that, although the box indicated that 6 pieces of nuggets are what it should contain, the box only contains 4 pieces due to the fact that is what I paid for.  In addition, there was also a sticker stating the same thing, although less legibly and precise.

Those are just two recent examples over the past several weeks.  

Now, that being said, I have been on the other side of that particular coin.  In the 1990s, I primarily worked retail jobs, as both a salesman and as a manager.  Although I would get the occasional customer who somehow wanted more than I could provide, as a rule, I tried to say “YES” as often as I could.  Those requests just cost me time, such as helping put items into their car or making a home visit to connect the new printer to the old PC.  When I had to say NO. it was because I had exhausted all other options.  

I believe that people use the word NO more often than not because they lack basic problem-solving skills.  In the example of the chicken nuggets, I received a YES only after I provided them a solution.  The solution did not cost them money or an extravagant amount of time in order to satisfy their customer.  I also like to think that my solution was offered to other customers that day, in order to fulfill their wants and needs.  Maybe some employees took credit for my solution and advanced in the eyes of their superiors.

When I was a manager, I had to interview potential employees.  My favorite question to ask was “Tell me of a time when you went above and beyond to help a customer.”  I listened to the response, but I was more interested in how soon the answer came to them.  An employee that goes the extra mile as a rule, not the exception, was the oneI wanted.  I once hired a guy simply because he wheels his elderly neighbor’s trash cart out for pickup once a week.

As a teacher, I try to impart, along with the academic lessons, lessons in problem-solving.  One thing I require from a student who offers an excuse is to give a heartfelt apology and a plan of action to keep from repeating the infraction in the future.  For example, if they are late to class, how can they ensure that they arrive on time in the future?  Maybe they can carry their supplies for multiple classes rather than going to their lockers between each one.  Regardless, I try to let the student give the solution.

The ability to problem solve independently is a valuable commodity in today’s workforce, but are you not glad that is not how God treats us?  The most quoted saying about God is that He helps those who help themselves.  Sounds like good advice, huh?  But God never says that in the Bible.

Our God is a YES God, a God who wants good things for us.  He doesn’t wait for us to act, he provides what we need in abundance!  He even provided a way out of death BEFORE we even had the sense to seek one! In Romans, Paul writes “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  There was nothing we did on our end to deserve Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.  The actions of our forefathers, starting with Adam and Eve, doomed the human race almost immediately! In fact, there are only a few chapters in the beginning and at the end of the Bible where man is totally at peace with God.  The rest of the 66 books describe in great detail our willful stubbornness to say “NO” to God, because of the inconvenience it would have on our lifestyle.

As believers, we have an obligation to say “YES” more than the world does.  Jesus states this very clearly in Matthew 5:40.   ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’’ What would your interactions look like if your Lord and Saviour were the one asking?

Prayer:  Dear Lord, when I am asked to help others in your Kingdom, may my response always be YES.  Help me also to discern the right course of action in all situations so I can reflect the love that you have shown me.

I thank you for reading my blog and look forward to any comments or criticism of what I have discussed.

If these words have impacted you, please feel free to share them by email or any social media platform.

You Turned My Mourning Into Dancing!”, my book, is available for purchase here.

2 thoughts on “Problem Solving

  1. Thanks Ken. I have missed your blog recently. It is almost as if you were busy! Yes, I am happy to have you back to give me my weekly wisdom.


  2. Interesting blog! In really enjoyed reading and i agree that problem solving is important! Thanks for sharing!

    Feel free to read some of my blogs 🙂


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