No Problem

I’ve discovered lately that I’m not a problem.  This comes as a welcome confirmation since I’ve spent most of my life trying not to be a problem.  But the creepy part is that I’m being told this by people who hardly know me.

“I’d like an oil change, please.”  “No problem!”

“May I have another glass of wine?”  “No problem!”

“Just a roll of stamps, please.”  “No problem!”

What’s going on? It’s nice to know that my requests are “no problem,” but this reply is coming from people who are being paid to do these jobs.  My first suspicion, as I try to sort this out, is that people today must see their work as a problem, and as they go about their work, expecting problems to arise, someone like me comes along with a simple request and—to their delight—they find it’s no problem. But my requests are the simple tasks they are being paid to do!

Is it possible that people continually view their work through the lens of “problems-no problems”?  Have people always found work to be a problem?  You’d hope that some people really like what they do and very rarely see it as a problem.  Of course everyone’s job has its daily routines and problems do arise, but shouldn’t problems be relatively rare and hence there’s no need to mention all the other times when no problems arise? Or maybe I’m imagining some fool’s paradise where most of the time things go well, smoothly, easily—you know, no problems.

“Two tickets for Dark Shadows.”  “No problem.”

I hear this everywhere and it seems to be getting more prevalent with every passing day. In restaurants I eavesdrop on conversations between customers and servers at other tables, and I come to the conclusion that most people’s requests are not a problem.  But why point that out? (Could there possibly be items on the menu that are problems, but by some stroke of luck, no one ever requests them?)

Maybe my theory that people see their work as a problem is wrong.  Maybe they never see a problem.  But that sounds even more like a fool’s paradise.

Another possibility occurred to me.  Maybe life itself is so much of a problem today, or there are so many problems in life itself, that people are really pleased that the work they do is relatively devoid of problems.  This would be very nice if it were true. Perhaps it is.

Another take on this might be that people feel powerless with all the world’s problems and so they like to present themselves in their jobs as so imminently qualified and competent that nothing I can request would be a problem.  Still, I’d like to test this sometime.  Maybe I could try Jack Nicholson’s routine in Five Easy Pieces where he goes through about a dozen steps with a waitress, eliminating this and that and substituting one thing for another so that he can get his meal just the way he wants it even though it’s not on the menu.  I forget the exact string of exemptions he figured out for this, but I think I could come up with my own.  Of course I wouldn’t do this in any local restaurant where people know me.  I’d get a reputation for being a problem.

We had our chimneys cleaned this week, and our new “sweep” pointed out a crack in one of the flues and told me how he was going to seal it.  I thanked him for that, and he said, “No problem!”  But the crack was a problem.  Well maybe not for him.  Or at least the sealing of it was not a problem.  Anyway, he sealed it, and it’s not a problem.  But it evidently wasn’t a problem before either.  This can get confusing.

My shaman suspicions suggest yet another possibility of what’s going on.  Maybe people don’t feel qualified and competent today and the “no problem” refrain is a kind of chant or mantra or magic spell that is meant to bring power, competence, and success.  If I say it, it will come true—something like that.  I do believe in the power of the spoken word so I’m not putting this down.  I do enough of this myself to know that it can work.

Well, anyway, my ears are attuned to the many situations where people are not seeing problems.  I suppose I should be grateful for this.  There are plenty of doomsday predictions this year of 2012 so maybe everyone is just trying to enjoy the little problems that are “no problem” as they await the Big One.