Recent stories of toilet paper hoarding remind me of my own toilet paper apocalypse and the lesson I learned from it. On a 3-day visit to a remote atoll in French Polynesia, I awoke on Dec. 17, 1977 at the home of my host family—nature was calling…
First Problem: Where’s the bathroom?
Noting that there was no bathroom in my host family’s home and not being able to speak either French or Polynesian, I expressed my needs to the family using my charade skills. They understood and pointed me towards the lagoon.
I walked down the path to the beach and from there I could see out in the shallows an outhouse on stilts just above the water line. I waded through the warm water to the facility and opened the door.
Second Problem: Where’s the toilet paper?!
Back I went, wading through the water and then back up to my host family’s home for another round of charades. This one was more difficult, but after a while they produced a somewhat small, waxy piece of tissue paper. That would have to do.
Precious tissue in hand, I waded out to the outhouse, climbed into the structure, and sat down on the roughhewn wooden seat. It was at that point I noticed some French newspapers placed next to the seat. My 13-year-old brain thought, “it’s awfully dark in here to read a newspaper.”
Ask the Right Question
Later that day, reflecting on my morning adventure and anticipating a similar dilemma the following morning, I asked myself, “If toilet paper is not available, how is everyone dealing with this common problem?”
Reframe the Problem
At that point, I realized that my problem was not a lack of toilet paper but the need to clean myself. Once I had reframed the problem, my mind instantly presented new ideas. For instance, I realized that the newsprint in the dark outhouse was not for reading. Also, I realized I had access to a warm-tropical-water bidet. There were many ways to solve my problem!
Not Invented Here
Sometimes we become wedded to a certain idea or way of doing things. Especially when we are faced with the stress of solving an urgent problem, we suffer from the myopia of amygdala hijack. Taking a moment to understand the underlying root problem, you are apt to open yourself to new ideas and new perspectives.
How do you develop a rich set of diverse ideas for consideration to solve the challenges that you face?
Ah, The mental visuals along this read! I needed a big smile!
Matt Schlegel says
Thanks, Beatrice. Hope it took you to a warm, tropical happy place!
Larisa Rapoport says
When I was growing up in Ukraine as a kid, there were times when newspaper was our toilet paper. I will say , this fact didn’t make anyone frustrated or unhappy. The key is to be creative and not to make an issue out of non-existing problem, and not to make the problem bigger that it is. It’s the habit that makes it so difficult for us to change – we are so used to one way of dealing with an issue that we don’t see an obvious solution right in front of our eyes. Maybe this solution isn’t ideal in our minds because we aren’t used to it ; yet, it is a solution.
Matt Schlegel says
Great observation about our habits being the obstacle. As you so astutely point out, our habits can blind us to alternative ideas and solutions.