Problems vs Predicaments

I came across this distinction watching a conversation of two very bright people discussing world affairs.

Problems have solutions…predicaments have outcomes…

The distinction was attributed to John Michael Greer who wrote The Long Descent: A User’s Guide To The End Of The Industrial Age and other books, none of which I have read.

"The distinction boils down to this: problems have solutions; predicaments have outcomes. A solution to a problem fixes it, returning all to its original condition. Once a suitable solution can be found and made to work, a problem can be solved. A predicament, by contrast, has no solution. Faced with a predicament, people can develop responses, but not solutions. Those responses may succeed, they may fail, or they may fall somewhere in between, but no response can erase a predicament. Predicaments have outcomes that can be managed, but circumstances cannot be returned to their original state."

An example of a predicament would be something like global warming.

The reason I thought this might be useful and of interest to this community is that it seems to me that the majority of what we work with in our lives, the things we tap on, are not problems but predicaments that we will need to learn to manage and develop responses to and develop an array of outer resources and inner resourcefulness to respond in a way that moves us, perhaps only in baby steps, toward thriving and emotional freedom…but we can’t ‘fix’ it like it is a ‘problem’…we can’t go back to a ‘pre-problem state’. . There is not going to be an easy ‘solution’ that restores us to some imaginary or ideal ‘before the problem existed’ state. And this is a REALLY useful and important concept for me to consider…it’s kind of revelatory in fact. I’m really aware of how often I have the wish, that after some tapping, maybe a lot of tapping and other things, that I can somehow magically be returned to some ideal ‘pre-problem state’…but that’s not the nature of predicaments. The idea of a ‘pre-problem’ existence is a beautiful, seductive fantasy that I find SO attractive. Now that I have some vocabulary and a concept that makes an important distinction for me it feels a bit more okay, a bit more understandable that an easy fix is not a reasonable expectation.

This distinction, Problem vs Predicament, seems to me to involve some of these Concepts For Thriving: Adaptation, Acceptance, Awareness, Useful Questions, and Magical Misconceptions


I’ve often used “situation” instead of “predicament” with the same distinction, and we’re on the same track that most of what we tap on are not things that can be solved, not as simple as “the toilet doesn’t flush. Fix! Toilet now flushes.” Heck, even if a disease is cured we’re not really back to the way things were before.

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Exactly my sense of things as well. It’s the expectation/hoping/wishing/desiring of things to return to the way the were before that is problematic for me and I assume others as well. That in itself is likely to present a challenge to healing as much as any other more obvious challenges I think…it’s a sneaky one!

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It is sneaky. It also assumes that there are not significant BENEFITS to be had during the healing process.

So yes, I wanted to “not be sick anymore” – and yet honestly if the diseases had cleared but my energetic emotional lifestyle had NOT, I’d likely be dead of something.

I’m careful to “lay this” on someone. Often times people get laid on with “all things for a reason” or “look for the silver lining” types of platitudes. I can just say that even when something has been seriously shitty… it’s possible to compost and with compost I have options to grow things.

I do believe we’re seeking a conceptual framework that honors how HARD predicaments / situations can be… and hold a space for there to be healing and growth in the midst of that, too.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Uhh, perhaps That which does not kill us definitely leaves us different. We just have SOME influence, choice, conscious co-creation amidst the situation (I assert).

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Yes, a very good observation…the process itself can be a chance to build some hardy emotional skills and inner resourcefulness at the very least.

I think that it would be very useful for anyone on a healing journey (and who isn’t by some description?) to become aware of at least some of our expectations and wishes around what ‘being healed’ looks like…what it means. Are our expectations ‘looking forward’ or looking back ‘into the past’? Are we guided by a Magical Misconception that we can arrive in an imaginary ideal ‘before the problem existed’ place …it might be good to remember that that ‘ideal’ time in the past likely contained many of the elements that created ill health to begin with, as you describe below:

Thanks Rick…there’s lots of practical wisdom in your observations.

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