An African proverb reads, “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’’, Linus Torvalds wrote, “No problem is so big it can’t be run away from’’, and French philosopher Frances-Marie Arouet, more popularly known as Voltaire, wrote, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”
Thus, from such global diversity, we freely acknowledge that we, the world, all of us, have problems! Of course, it is mannerly, and often gentlemanly, to make light of problems, and the French idiom, “pas de probleme’’, has been a typically French enlightenment of a required task, as one wit put it, “It is a dance, suggesting that while your imposition was important, maybe challenging, and maybe difficult, I have happily done it for you, understanding that one day, I will require the same from you.” So, while it had throwaway connotations, it was anything but!
Beatles peacenik John Lennon was to utter, and achieve immortality, if not already through his music, through his oft used quotation, “There are no problems, only solutions’’, a quotable quote, glib and almost dismissive of the issues that face us all, from a personal level to global. Just think about it, you have rent to pay, but you have not been paid by your employer for three months, your landlord’s goodwill can only stretch so far before his bank requires his money. Problem! Globally, conflict between two countries, a war can rarely be stopped by asking them both to stop! Problem!
The Spanish too have a similar phrase in “De Nada’’, interpreted as, “it’s nothing’’, yet it has an inherent lightness about it, and manifests itself simply as a well-mannered response to “Gracia’’, in the same way as the appropriate response to “Shukran’’, is “Afwan’’, meant, sincere, yet with no undertone of responsibility.
This “No problem.” This simplest of responses, this dismissal of sometimes inconvenient circumstances, challenging events, and absolute disasters, this watershed of irresponsibility, has now, apparently, manifested itself within the popular vernacular of the English language not only as an acceptable response to saying, “Thank you’’, but as a response to a request.
I like the thoughts of a diner who ordered a bottle of Californian Red with his steak, to which his server replied, “No problem.”
The diner immediately responded, “Why would it be a problem?” To which the abashed waiter had no response. From another perspective, go to any coffee shop, and order an Americano, and when the waiter brings it you say, “Thank you’’, and the waiter replies, “No problem.” Of course, there is no problem… if you pay. But try leaving without paying…
As Merriam’s Dictionary explains, “Think nothing of it’’, “It’s nothing’’, “Forget it’’, “No sweat’’, “No worries’’, have been superseded by the millennial’s use of “No problem’’, an innocuous yet irritating idiom. Maybe it is the lack of gravity, purpose, or sincerity, or maybe I am just getting old, and realistically, with the pandemic, ironically ‘a problem’, getting grumpy due to my continued isolation. No! It is that, if something in our lives has become a problem, and is beyond our ability to resolve it, like Covid-19 for instance... the question must be asked... Who are you that has the arrogance and temerity to trivialize it?
Media commentator Judith Humphrey listed the phrase as one that can diminish your credibility. “At a level just beneath consciousness awareness, it telegraphs an underhanded resentment’’, she writes.
“It implies the possibility that somebody has created an issue that they’re willing to let slide.” Are you willing to let all you have worked for, all that you have... slide?
We did not create the pandemic, but through our arrogance, our conceit, our ignorance, and our hubris, we are perpetuating this life-affecting pandemic. Don’t just... let it slide!