Acknowledging, Meditating, Changing: Fighting Our Wicked Problems

Wicked problems consume our world, but ironically, I was not aware of this until a few weeks ago.

I currently am enrolled in a sustainability focused course at Oklahoma State University. I am halfway through this course, and I am reflecting over the things I have learned about sustainability thus far. Firstly, we discussed the essence of a wicked problem, a problem that cannot necessarily be solved with one solution but instead implies a variety of opinions and different ways to solve it. In learning about such problems in our world, I have developed more mindfulness to them. To understand these problems can be confusing. At first, I had an incredibly, hard time comprehending these issues. They can be hard to visualize as what makes a problem wicked is its ability to be viewed differently by everyone. For example, the issue of overconsumption is very polarized making it difficult to be solved. The media and our western culture greatly focus on advertisements and marketing fueling mass overconsumption. While some acknowledge and realize this should stop and companies should implement more sustainable practices, others worry about what this change could do to the economy. While some people want a better quality of life and protection for our environment, others want economic growth and prosperous sales across the country and world. Divisions such as these create wicked problems that are seemingly unable to be solved. As for me, through practices such as meditation, I feel myself becoming more mindful of myself and my consumption. Overconsumption is a cultural phenomenon that I find myself falling into. As of late, am trying to be more cautious about my purchases. Instead of constantly buying and consuming, I have tried to borrow or reuse certain items around myself. 

Emotionally, wicked problems can be difficult to understand as one may have incredible passion for one side and not understand how there could be much opposition, if any. It can be emotional finding some problems that seem impossible to change as they are so large and cause so much division. In class we have been practicing meditation to be more mindful and aware of these emotions but also focusing on letting them pass. By calming the mind and body, one can be more observant of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, allowing them to be seen, and then to simply pass without judgement, just awareness. 

One way we have learned that we can help address and combat wicked problems on a personal level is to humble ourselves before nature. Over the past years, focus has shifted in society from honoring, preserving, and fearing nature, to abusing, degrading, and exploiting nature. It seems currently in our society that people have a superiority complex over nature. People thinking, they are more powerful than nature and can therefore abuse it is at the root of many of the wicked problems we face. Even now as people become more mindful and aware that we must respect nature, not everyone does. As a result, our problems have become “wicked.” As for myself, I feel that I am becoming humbler before nature. Realizing that nature is something that sustains us, and we need it for survival makes us truly respect it more. 

Although, I alone cannot fix a wicked problem, I am choosing actions that hopefully help reduce the negative effects I have on nature. For example, last semester I would never recycle items because the recycling dumpster was farther away from my dorm than the trash dumpster. Now however, I find myself being conscious about recycling and even creating a recycle bag throughout the week and walking a little further to recycle items rather than simply tossing them in the trash. This mindfulness has also carried into other aspects. Instead of throwing away old items I no longer have use for, I have started to focus on what I can donate to promote a lifestyle of reusing all I can. By not tossing out old items and donating them instead, I hope to be promoting sustainability as even when I have no more use for or have outgrown a certain item, I can donate it so someone else can use it and does not have to buy something new. Creating massive amounts of new products that our society constantly consumes take large amounts of energy and resources. In donating, borrowing, or repurposing old items, I hope I can limit the number of new items I need to purchase for myself. I also recently have been trying to use less energy. Because the use of energy takes such a large toll on our environment, I have really found myself being more cautious of my usage as of late. For example, I used to not be super aware of what lights I left on and off when I left for class or went to bed. Now I make sure to turn off all my lights before leaving and even double check to see if my roommates turned off all their lights when they go home for the weekend. I hope that even my small efforts will help preserve at least a little energy. 

The problems in sustainability we face are truly very large. As these issues are so polarizing, they sometimes feel like they will never be solved. Being just one person, I sometimes question whether my efforts are really making a difference. However, I choose to tell myself that if these problems are to ever be solved, it must start somewhere. Whenever I feel defeated and that my efforts are not making any kind of difference in the world, I choose to use my practice of mindfulness as a way of acknowledging these emotions and thoughts but also letting them pass without effecting my efforts. 

So far, I have come a long way regarding being aware of the strain we as a society place on our environment. Sustainability of our resources and our environment is something everyone should be aware of and striving towards. It can be difficult and emotional to take on these large problems many people seem to know little or care about. However, if change is going to occur it must start somewhere. As for me, I currently am choosing to be more aware of the wicked problems we face, and I am doing my absolute best to combat these issues by doing what I can within my own life to honor our environment and create the largest impact I can. 

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