So what is a wicked problem? After taking a course on wicked problems, essentially it is a problem that is very difficult, or impossible to solve because of many different variables. But what I have found is that it takes compassion to fully understand wicked problems and the effects they have on ourselves, others, and the environment. An impossible problem may be the definition of a wicked problem, but it requires an intellectual, emotional, and somatic understanding to fully digest the concept. My goal was to be able to understand each of these different elements of wicked problems, from not only my perspective, but others. So how do these elements play into understanding wicked problems? First you have to know the facts about a wicked problem. For example, in relation to sweatshops, we know that employees work in very dangerous environments with bad air quality, machinery not up to code, and building safety not up to code. We also know that they get paid an unfair amount, working long hours, and sometimes child labor is even used. So now we have identified a problem; inhumane exploitment of employees by manufacturers to produce low cost products. So why can’t we just get rid of the problem? Here is where the emotional and somatic elements come in. Each wicked problem affects different groups of people differently, according to their perspectives and situations. Going along with the sweatshop example, if all sweatshops were to be eradicated completely it would affect all participating groups in a different way. Manufacturers would then have to pay more for their products to be produced by another factory, or pay to improve factories up to code, therefore their products would increase in price for the consumer. What once may have been cheap, is no longer affordable. Then there is the side of the employees. Yes, they may have been underpaid, and working in terrible conditions all day, but they went from little income to none, and most sweatshops are located and employed by people in underdeveloped countries. There is no simple answer to a wicked problem, or really any answer, because of the conflicting perspectives, and emotions. Many wicked problems go left not mentioned, or sometimes people have no idea that it exists or that they have a part in influencing it. That’s where mindfulness plays a part. Being mindful means to be aware of yourself, and the effect you have on the environment, and everyone around you. That’s why mindfulness practices, such as meditation, are beneficial to solving wicked problems, and being able to create a sustainable society. If you are mindful of who you are and the effect you have on everything around you, the way you live can then be altered to better support others, and the environment.
Now, when approaching the solution to a wicked problem I have found that you have to approach it humbly, and compassionately. But what exactly does that mean? Humbly approaching a problem is going into it knowing you may not have a solution, and you definitely won’t have a solution that benefits everyone, or solves the problem completely. There can be no pride, thinking we as humans have all the answers, because we don’t. That brings us to compassion. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers, you have to have compassion for yourself, and others, because it is okay to not have all the answers. Continuing with the sweatshop example, we obviously don’t have one solution that will benefit all participants; manufacturers, consumers, and employees. And, we most likely will never have one solution, but that is okay. We are not expected to have all the answers because we are only human. Now, we can accept that and move onto what we can do at the moment that will make the situation better. And oftentimes when we find a solution that works, it creates another problem, but we just have to be compassionate to ourselves and start the process over. Wicked problems of industrial practice, such as sweatshops, is something we don’t have one answer to, but is also something we as everyday citizens have an influence on. This ties back to being mindful of your effect on society. An idea that could help the situation that we as consumers can do, is vote with our purchases. By that I mean what you buy is what you approve of, so being mindful of the companies that use sweatshops, and deliberately giving your business elsewhere until they improve conditions in their factories is one way we can make a small change everyday.
After taking a course in wicked problems, I actually understand what a wicked problem is, and that it is impossible to solve while still pleasing everyone involved because we all have different opinions, perspectives, beliefs of what’s right and wrong, and priorities. Now knowing this, I also know that the little things I do in my everyday life can affect, and have a positive outcome on the condition of the environment. Especially being a future employee in the fashion industry. But for now, there are little things I can do, and encourage others to do, in order to create a more sustainable future. I think the most important thing is changing the way I live, from consumerism to reuse. Our society today has created a culture of consumerism. People want the nicest car, the biggest house, the newest clothes, but what about the stuff they already have? Does it just go to waste? Instead of always looking for what I can attain, I can appreciate what I have first. This doesn’t mean that I will never buy another car, or a new pair of jeans, but using everything I have to its fullest potential, and then when it is done, finding a way to give it new life. This small change in lifestyle, if done by everyone, would make a huge difference in our environment, and it all starts with me, and you. Additionally, doing a little research into the things I buy so I am not supporting companies that use bad industrial practices, takes little effort, but could make a big difference. Both of these shifts in what I do can influence those around me like my family, and friends. Once they see the benefit of being considerate of the environment, and being mindful of the effect you have on everyone, and everything, they are more likely to make the shift too. The course we took has altered my outlook on sustainability more than anything else. I used to think of sustainability as paper straws, reusable bags, and recycling, which are all parts of living a sustainable life, but more than that it’s a shift in your perspective from consumerism, and being wasteful, to appreciating what you have, and finding a use for it. And a big part of it is just being mindful of the effects you have in every action you take, because a lot of times I never even thought about how my actions affected the environment, like what happened to my clothes after I got rid of them. With this new perspective, and a change in my own actions, I can have an influence on others around me, and together we can have a positive impact on the environment.