Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

When you do things differently than everyone else does, that make you an outlier? An oddity? A rebel? What about a problem solver?

The answer to these questions depends a great deal on why you are being different. I have been pondering the value of being different. Many of our current environmental problems—a warming climate, air pollution, plastic waste in the oceans, rising sea levels, deforestation, species decline and extinction, shrinking habitats, poaching, natural resource use, and energy demands, to name just a few—require us to look at things differently than we have been. Eventually, as solutions become known and understood, accepted and practiced, different won’t be different. But until then, a few outliers, oddballs, rebels, or in other words, problem solvers will need to be the first to do things in a different way.

I learned a great lesson about the value of thinking and acting when I attended an American Idols Live! concert at the E Center (now the Maverik Center). The tour’s lineup of talent included David Cook, Brooke White, Jason Castro, and hometown hero, David Archuleta, among others. When Archuleta took the stage, the stadium crowd went bat crazy mad. The yelling, screaming, and cheering was so loud I thought my eardrums were going to burst. I couldn’t even hear myself screaming—which I of course did not do being all manly and such.

It was a great show, but when it was over, there was a price to pay—and no it wasn’t for hearing aids. The parking lot for the stadium was packed and I could see it was going to be a very long wait to exit the lot. Like a vast salmon migration, all the cars were headed in one direction, trying to make their way back out of the one entrance they had entered at. Everyone was blindly following everyone else and moving at the speed of congealed blood. As I looked at this mass congestion of cars, I was thankful I had used the bathroom prior to leaving the stadium. I really didn’t relish the idea of sitting in the parking lot in an idling car for the next hour or two.

“Was there a quicker way out than what I was seeing?” I wondered as Kathy (my wife) and I hiked to our car. That’s when a brilliant idea struck me. I don’t get many brilliant ideas but this one was lightning in a bottle. Maybe it was because we had just been to a rock concert (okay, a pop concert) that I was feeling a bit like a rebel. When we arrived at our car, parked far, far away from the only exit we could see, I jumped up on its hood and surveyed the situation. As I observed the hundreds of cars all trying to make their way to that one exit, I looked in the opposite direction from this new vantage point. Bingo! In the far distance, in a dark corner of the lot, I saw a few red taillights disappearing into the night. I hopped down off the hood and jumped into our car. Much to Kathy’s surprise, I turned our car around and started driving against all the traffic toward those distant red lights. In mere minutes we were exiting the lot and on our way home.

In the years since that night I have found that looking in places others aren’t looking can really pay off. It has also gotten us quickly out of a packed parking lot after concerts on more than that one occasion. Our mothers were right when they asked us that proverbial question regarding cliff jumping. “Would you jump off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it?” In other words, just because “everyone” is doing something doesn’t make that something right or the wise thing to do. Sometimes the right or wise thing to do is the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Sometimes we need to look in the opposite or different direction than everyone else to see the solution we need.

Jumping upon the hood of our cars won’t give us the perspective we need to solve our environmental challenges. Mosty likely, it will put dents in the hood. But acting differently, finding a new perspective, could. Being or doing things differently for the sake of nonconformity in and of itself might make you an outlier or an oddity or a rebel. But thoughtful questioning of the status quo and a willingness to go in a different direction when it comes to the tough environmental questions we are facing, might make you a problem solver. Our planet needs problem solvers.

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Jeff Vanek Blog ,