Maybe we should stop trying to “fix” things

by Kristin on November 4, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Qfamily

Some things require fixing. The toilet that won’t stop running. The pedal on your bike that makes an annoying screech with every round. The soup that’s lacking a bit of spice or salt, to add interest and bring together all of the flavors.

Fixing is what you do to something that is inherently good and clearly on the right track, but just needs a bit of help—some tweaks—along the way.

When it comes to our stuff, sometimes it feels like my generation of Americans are too quick to toss out the old and replace it with something new. Shoe repair shops are becoming almost a thing of the past. It usually costs more to fix a DVD player than it does to buy a new one. And while I have many friends who know the proper way to darn a sock, I suspect that my collection of friends is somewhat…err…unusual.

Ironically, though, when it comes to societal and personal problems, we seem all too eager to “fix.” We’re especially fans of the quick fix. We love the band-aid approach—we’re more than happy to see if we can cover up the problem with a fresh coat of paint so we can forget about it a bit longer. When problems are mostly out of sight, after all, they can be mostly out of mind.

Are we misusing (or over-using) the word “fix”?

So here’s what I’m pondering: Maybe we need to stop using the word “fix” unless we’re referring to physical objects with minor broken aspects that can be made right. There are many definitions for the word “fix,” but I think the one we tend to have in mind in these instances is this: “The act of adjusting, correcting, or repairing. To restore to proper condition or working order; repair.”

(Maybe I’m being a bit nerdy about the semantics, but that’s what tends to happen when you major in English and make a living using words.)

Of course, our use of the word “broken” goes right along with “fix,” and should also be looked at more carefully. A marriage can be referred to as broken. So can a healthcare or education system. Trust can be broken, too. But not all broken things should be fixed. In some cases, they can’t be fixed. What do we do, then?

Fix it, toss it, or claim a third approach

I began mulling all of this over yesterday when someone I follow on Twitter, @RogueReverend, tweeted this:

Did you really think Obama was going to fix everything? Because some stuff ain’t gonna be “fixed.” It’s gonna be different.

I “retweeted” (or quoted) her statement in my own tweet, then followed it with this:

I like the distinction between *fixing* things & doing them differently. for so long I felt like I needed to *fix* my life, then I reframed.

What I meant by that is this: I saw all kinds of things in my life that I thought needed fixing, and other things that I thought were beyond fixing, and just needed to be tossed. If you have a broken DVD player, those are your options—try to get it fixed, or toss it and decide what to do from there.

But in life, with people and the messy situations we create, I’m discovering that we don’t have just two options. There’s a fuzzy third alternative, the one @RogueReverend referred to as “different.”

It isn’t going to be “fixed.”

It isn’t going to be trashed, and then replaced with a new version of the same old thing.

It’s going to be “different.” Re-framed and surprising—not the same old thing with just a fresh coat of paint.

That specific marriage or the idea of marriage? That health system intended to care for people who are sick and hurting? That idea of “church” or “community”? I believe they can all be seen in entirely new ways, from a previously blocked vantage point. It takes a bit more effort, but I believe it’s the only way we can begin to see what’s possible.

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  • Trina

    Oh yes, Kristin, and some of what we may feel needs ‘fixing’ need no ‘fix’ at all… I think of this in terms of how the collective ‘we’ approaches helping people in third world countries. Or, apply that to ‘fixing’ our spouse. Oh lordy.
    In terms of fixing the physical items – ‘we’ are too much of a disposable society… good on you and your friends for knowing how to darn a sock – something my hubby thinks I should know ;-) – now, I want to know, how many of you do? haha.

  • Lori-Lyn

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  • ed cyzewski

    thought and comment provoking.

  • Meredith

    Sometimes I think we “fix” things because we want the comfort of old things. We don’t want a new bike, new shoes, a new marriage or a new healthcare system; we want to fix the old one because we know the old one. It’s familiar and comfortable to us. That fuzzy third alternative, that thing that is “different,” isn’t comfortable or familiar. I think we sometimes resist that which is new and strange because it’s easier to cling to the familiar and comfortable.

    But, as you said, things that are different can be full of possibilities.

  • Laurachris2

    Excellent, Kristin. I know my entire life changed when I reframed my view of myself from a loser to a beloved child of God. Just like that, I went from broken to whole. That reframing forced me to look at others the same way, and everything changed for the better.

  • Jennifer

    Two things.

    1. Where I live, we “fix” dinner. I never ever want to eat a dinner that has been fixed.
    2. Reminds me of our sermon on Sunday. Our pastor spoke about the difference between how we see ourselves and how God sees us. He sees all the good, the perfection he rendered with his power. We see all the ways we fall short.
    A simple reframing changes a lot of things.

  • Joy

    Wow. I love this post. Very thought provoking. I’m at time I’m overhauling my life. I’ve always allowed for so much gray to exist–a big limbo for material and relationships–while I decided (or rather avoided deciding) whether it needed to be fixed or discarded. But, different–there is an aspect I hadn’t really considered or allowed for. Thank you!

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    Ten years ago I was told I had cancer & I needed a bone marrow transplant to be cured. I was fixed (praise God) but I wasn’t fixed like I wanted to be. I was stuck in a new body that wasn’t like the old one, it got tired, got sick easily, needed a whole ton of meds to keep it ticking, & didn’t look or function like before But, over time, I have learned to accept what is here and work with it and find out it really is not so bad. There is a new normal for me that is full of possibilities and I have whole new perspective on everything from the mundane to the profound.

    Choosing to look at things from a new perspective is never easy, it takes courage and creativity, but the rewards are worth it.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    I forgot to mention that looking looking at things different also sometimes requires a good sense of humor.

  • Kristin T.

    Trina, you bring up some great examples, regarding our efforts to “fix” spouses and other countries. My neighbor has a bumper sticker that says “Not every problem has an American solution.” I wonder what makes us so intent on fixing some things and so quick to discard others.

    Lori-Lyn and Ed, thanks for letting me know!

    Meredith, yes, we’re generally afraid of the unknown, aren’t we? And one of the things we fear the most is that we’ll regret something—a life-altering decision or a change of course. Rather than deal with the potential for regret, it’s easier to stick with what we know. It’s at least a sure thing, even if it’s riddled with problems.

    Laurachris2, exactly! That shift in understanding how God sees me was at the heart of my own significant reframing. And you’re absolutely right: When you are able to see yourself differently, with more compassion and love, it changes how you see others. Thanks for bringing this into the conversation!

    Jennifer, you’re making me laugh, with your “fix dinner” comment. My response to Laurachris2, above, really fits what I want to say to you also, and I’d like to add this question: If God sees the good in us, why do so many God-believers grow up positive that God is always angry, frustrated and disappointed in us? I mean, I know the Old Testament God is a lot of those things, but why does that stick with us more than all of the OT promises God makes to his people, not to mention the entire New Testament?

    Joy, thanks! I firmly believe that most things in life aren’t black or white, but at the same time I think I have a love-hate relationship with the gray. It seems more forgiving and less extreme, but it can easily become a wishy-washy do-nothing blob. As you said, when things are grey, they’re much easier to avoid.

    Elaine, that’s such a powerful life illustration for this topic. I love how you put this: “There is a new normal for me that is full of possibilities and I have whole new perspective on everything from the mundane to the profound.” I’m so thankful that you’ve reached this place, and that you’re willing to share what you’ve learned with the rest of us.

  • suzen

    Wow – I enjoyed looking at the word “fix” on this post! Very well written! I think I may just toss this fix word into the “f” word catagory – alont with “failure” so it has company!

  • dorie

    I think that’s why it’s so hard when things are broken–you know they will never be the same again. It takes a good deal of posi and mess in between to make the things you know will be different work for you.

    I knit socks now, but I think I’ll hate darning the way I hate hemming. I guess I will one day have to embrace the darn because I wouldn’t want socks it took me a month to make to go to waste. As a preventive measure, I find myself wondering which shoes chafe the least.