Problems, Concerns, and Annoyances – Keeping Your Perspective

As human beings, we tend to spend a fair amount of time feeling upset about one thing or another.  As being upset is typically not the most pleasant way to spend the afternoon, I try to keep perspective by dividing anything that might upset me into one of three categories:  problems, concerns, and annoyances.

  • A problem is an imminent threat that if it goes poorly it could significantly effect your life or the life of someone you care about one year from now.
  • A concern is a threat that if it goes poorly it could significantly effect your life or the life of someone you care about one year from now, but it is not imminent.  It could occur but it probably won’t occur.
  • An annoyance is anything that if it goes poorly will not affect your life a year from now.

Here are some distinctions:


  • My spouse has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Cancer.
  • My company just had layoffs.  I wasn’t in this round of layoffs but we expect more layoffs later this month.


  • My spouse has unhealthy eating habits.
  • My company may do poorly if the economy takes a downturn.


  • My spouse didn’t do the dishes last night.
  • My co-worker messed up at work so now I have to work all weekend.

Most of us spend much of our time getting ourselves all worked up over annoyances.  Yes, annoyances are annoying but they won’t kill us.  Annoyances aren’t worth the mental anguish of upsetting ourselves.  We just need to tell ourselves that in the long run, it doesn’t make any difference then just get past it without wasting our mental energy.

For concerns we should spend some mental energy to try to make sure our concerns don’t become problems or to mitigate the problems if they do occur.  For example, we might prepare healthier meals or learn a new job skill that could be useful if your current job goes away.  We should not waste our mental energy getting upset over things that are unlikely to occur.

Save your mental energy for the true problems in life, the ones that count.  And if by some chance you are at a time in your life that you don’t have problems, just concerns and annoyances, take a moment to savor it.  We tend to get so caught up in our annoyances and concerns that we forget to appreciate the times our lives are truly blessed.


A Starting Point for Discussing Morality

I previously blogged that the best way to analyze the effectiveness of a policy is if it rewards good choices or bad choices.  Effectiveness is only part of judging if a policy is good, however.  The other side is morality.   For a policy to be good, it must be both effective and it must be moral.

While effectiveness can be objectively measured, morality is much more subjective.  To take morality to its most basic level, I propose that for anything to be immoral, an offense must be committed.  An offense is anything that offends, displeases, or causes harm.   Offenses can be categorized as one or more of the following:

  • An offense against oneself
  • An offense against others
  • An offense against God

The definition of an offense against God is entirely subject to a person’s individual religious beliefs.  I spoke before of common assumptions.  If one is a Christian, one can assume that the New Testament is an authoritative source for what is an offense against God so two Christians can use this as a reference for a debate.  Even if the logic based upon the New Testament is flawless, it will have no impact on a Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or anyone who is not a Christian.  The same can be said for any religion.  My own personal belief is that I don’t believe there is any offense against God that is not also an offense against oneself or others.  This of course is 100% subjective.

In any case, my ongoing discussions of the morality of any issue will not involve any references to God.  I know there are those who believe that morality cannot even be discussed without the concept of God.  As I blogged previously, without shared assumptions, a starting point, there can be no meaningful discussion.   I will understand if this is your view and you totally reject everything I say on this subject.

I will further go on to state my belief that an offense only against oneself is not immoral.  It may be incredibly stupid, but it is not immoral.  If you make a poor choice and you are the only one injured by your choice, you have not made an immoral choice, just an ineffective choice.

Frequently, however, people who think their bad choices affect only themselves are quite mistaken.  They just don’t think things through fully.  For example, a person might say that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is not immoral, because the rider only injures him/herself.  If, however,  the rider suffers a brain injury and doesn’t have the resources to pay all the medical bills and provide care for him/herself, then the cost of this bad decision is born not just by the rider but by everyone else in society who must contribute to this person’s care.  Also, anyone who is dependent upon the rider, such as the rider’s children, are hurt as well.  Finally, the people who care about the rider may be emotionally devastated, in itself a severe injury.

With the caveat therefore that when we say we are only hurting ourselves, we may be mistaken, my analysis going forward will define as being possibly immoral only actions that hurt others.  This does not mean that any action that hurts others is immoral.  When you buy from Target and not Walmart, one can argue that you are hurting the people at Walmart.  This does not make your purchase immoral.  I am just saying that only an offense against others makes an act possibly immoral.  We can then debate if it actually is moral or immoral.

The Success Equation

If we wish to have success, I think it is helpful to define the components of success, what I call the success equation.  As far as I know, this specific equation is my concept, but the ideas behind it do not require any particular genius so I would not be surprised at all if it has been proposed many times before.

Success = Talent x Choices x Opportunities

Here I define talent as your inborn abilities.  Choices are the sum of all of your decision.  Opportunities are what is available to you in the outside world.

By definition, talent is maximized at birth and is generally a constant.  A disability may decrease it, such as an artist going blind.  Refining and improving talent is a choice one makes.  Also by definition, a person can not create his or her own opportunities.  He or she can only recognize opportunities and then make the choice to take or not take advantage of the opportunity.

Since talent is fixed, any political policies that increase success has to do one of two things:  increase the probability that people will make good choices or increase opportunities.  Conversely, any policy that decreases the probability of good choices or opportunities will be harmful.

To some extent, all three are essential.  For example, in a medieval feudal society a peasant was destined to be a peasant, regardless of his or her talent or choices.  At this point, I would like to postulate that 21st century America is not a medieval society.  There is a multitude of opportunities, even for people who live under the worst conditions.  If there were no opportunities, as the peasant faced in medieval Europe, then nobody would be successful. However, some people are successful, so ergo there are opportunities.  I would also postulate that for a child growing up in a middle class family with a supportive, stable two-parent family, the opportunities are much easier to find and the child is more likely to make good choices.  A child growing up in a slum in an unstable single-parent household will most likely find fewer opportunities, they will be farther from home, and the child will be less likely to make good choices to take advantage of them.

The inherent unfairness of life, however, does not change the equation.  Regardless of the background, increasing the opportunities and increasing the probability of good choices will lead to more success.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” Gladwell demonstrates fairly convincingly that the most successful people such as the Bill Gates’s and Steve Jobs’s of the world would not be successful if they did not have amazing opportunities.  If they were born a few years earlier or later or if they did not have computer access unavailable to most kids their age, they most likely would not have had the same level of achievement.  This premise is entirely consistent with the success equation.  To achieve maximum success, all three elements of the equation,  talent, choices, and opportunities, must all be at a maximal level.   For most of us, however, we do not need to achieve billionaire status to be successful.   We just need to use whatever talent we have with reasonable choices to take advantage of reasonable opportunities and we can achieve enough success to have a fulfilling middle class lifestyle.

So how can a third party, such as the government, increase people’s probability of success?   It can promote policies that provide opportunities and provide incentives for people to make good choices.   The best way to provide opportunities for the most people is to promote a healthy growing economy.   I will discuss this at a later time.  For now, I would like to propose the idea that promoting good choices is much more important.  Even when there are limited opportunities, if a person makes very good choices he or she will find and take advantage of these opportunities.  On the other hand, even if there are fantastic opportunities, a person who makes poor choices will never take advantage of them.  Therefore, the key to promoting success is by helping people make good choices.  How do we do that?  That will be the subject of my next blog.