What’s So Wicked? Learning What Our Ways Are Costing Us

What’s so wicked about our actions? 

That is most certainly a question I asked myself when enrolling in my required “Wicked Problems of Industrial Practice” class last fall. However, upon attending the first few weeks of class I came to the shocking realization that many of the things that come with our industrial and economic growth as well as our material culture, have created detrimental, irreversible, wicked problems in society. These problems are poisoning our world and the nature around us. How can we be so oblivious to the damage, one may ask? Because that is exactly how culture has programmed us to think.

When I initially enrolled in my sustainability focused course, I thought of it as a waste of my time. Just another class to check off on the long road towards my degree. Reflecting now, I realize how important it is to require this course of design students. However, I did not always feel that way. Throughout the course of this class, statements like “Why are we meditating,” “But I can’t do anything about it,” and “This seems hopeless” have certainly all crossed my mind. In continuing to show up and have an open mind however, I have gained so much knowledge on the problems we face, as well as the light at the end of the tunnel for our industry and the world if these kinds of courses continue to be required not just on our campus but across the globe.

I have grown in a multitude of ways on my sustainability journey over the course of this class. Mindfulness has been a big part of my personal journey as I learned to not only be aware of the wicked problems within our world but also live a more sustainable lifestyle. It did not come easily to me, however. When we initially started meditating in class as a way to become mindful and self-aware, I had a really hard time with it. Focusing and sitting still for that long and tuning out my surroundings for an extended period of time was very difficult for me. I felt as though it was just a pointless way to put me to sleep. After sticking with it for a while however, I found myself using my time in meditation to acknowledge my emotions in a passive sense, letting them go and simply watching them pass without judgement. This quality and development in mindfulness has proven very valuable in my sustainability journey. When I get discouraged, I find myself allowing my emotions to pass, choosing to persevere in my journey and efforts of sustainability. In addition, this meditative practice has helped me to bring more peace and observance within my body. When hearing about these wicked problems, it can be easy to get overwhelmed or tense. In becoming more mindful, it has become easier for me to loosen my body back up, sort through my emotions, and refocus. This mindfulness has really let me focus on my feelings and emotions without letting them get to me. In doing so, I can really pour my efforts into living a sustainable lifestyle and creatively problem-solving some of these issues. 

Realizing that these problems are “wicked” and as a result are inherently difficult to solve, at times can feel deflating. This is a feeling I remember encountering in my first few weeks of class. We were quickly exposed to a lot of hard truths. I personally felt the situation was hopeless. I found myself wondering why my efforts even mattered, as these problems are so large and looming. Culture tries to feed us the lie that these problems are not that bad, they are easily fixed, and that they are not out personal problems. Suddenly realizing that these lines are myths can be emotional and hard. But ultimately, this realization is the first step to change. I now realize that it is the mindfulness I created over this class that has caused me to step out of cultural norms and feel these emotions. Although it can be hard, it is important to develop a sensitivity to these issues. As I have done this, I have found myself inspired to do small things to leave less of a footprint and live a more sustainable lifestyle. Some things I am personally doing to achieve this include, recycling more, buying less and donating more, taking only what is necessary, and picking up trash around campus. Being aware of these issues and mindful of my personal habits has really allowed me to transform minor habits to even make the smallest difference in the world around me. 

This course has been a lot of different things for me at different times. As I touched on previously, when I first enrolled, I viewed it as a waste of my time, simply a course to check off my list. After our first class when we watched the 11th Hour movie, I was upset. I was confused on how these problems in our world could ever be solved and why I needed to learn about something seemingly so unfixable. I really struggled through our first-class meditation and even in successive times found it incredibly hard to focus and be present enough to really get the benefits. After a while, I did eventually find myself able to focus for at least most of the time in class, allowing me to develop mindfulness that helped me both in and out of the classroom. This class was also confusing me at times. I had a really difficult time identifying and grasping the essence of a wicked problem as part of its very definition is that it that it is not easily solved due to different viewpoints and possible compromises that needed to be made to solve it. It was hard for me to understand all the sides of the problems and all the different viewpoints because I only tended to see a solution on one side. Despite my initial confusion and frustration, I realized this was the entire reason these problems were plaguing our world. The problems themselves are inherently frustrating and seemingly unable to be solved, that is why they are wicked, and without a group of people in our society that are aware of them and genuinely working to combat them, our world will never stop them, and our society and environment will reap the consequences. 

This course has greatly heightened my awareness for our cultural unawareness. It has also increased my desire to be mindful of nature and humble myself before it, knowing that I am not above nature, and it is not my place to exploit it, but it is instead my job to protect and honor it. In addition, this course has made me more mindful of my own actions, encouraging me to make more sustainable choices in both my lifestyle and in my future career as a designer. What I initially thought of as a waste of my time has opened my eyes to the harm our society is doing to the place we call home. Although I am only on person, I choose to believe that my efforts will make a difference. If other people make this same decision, maybe, we can not only prevent future wicked problems, but we can slowly chip away at solving the wicked problems that exist around us now before it is too late. 

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