Maryland Forward Party

PEP Talk Core Principles: Six Ways To Disarm Political Fights - Prioritize Problems Before Discussing Solutions

12 April, 2024

Developed by Pete Oliver-Krueger, head of our Priorities and Policies Committee, the Prioritizing Epic Problems (PEP) Talk is a fresh approach to politics, encouraging constructive dialogue, bridging divides in political discourse and reaching consensus on identifying pressing issues. This is Part 5 of 6.


Instead of fighting over which solution(s) to implement, everyone instead shares the Problems that they are trying to solve, and works collaboratively to solve multiple Problems at the same time.


“Everyone believes they are doing the ‘right’ thing. Even when they know they are doing ‘wrong’, they believe they are doing ‘wrong’ for the ‘right’ reasons.”

People love solving problems. It is part of our biological instincts that have helped us to survive for thousands of years. Of course we solve problems with solutions. Unfortunately, though, people sometimes become so passionate about a particular solution that they continue to pursue their chosen solution, even if it is no longer solving the original Problem which inspired it. When this disconnect happens, people can be tricked, or can trick themselves, into working against their own best interests.

Additionally, people have been taught to prioritize and solve one problem at a time. Solving a single problem is enticing because tackling one problem at a time is much easier to do. Solving multiple problems at once can be very complex. The problem is that when we solve single problems in isolation, we almost always make one or more other problems worse in the process. Then as we move on to solve the next problem, we may even make the previous problem that we just solved worse because we are no longer focused on it.

On top of those problems, you also cannot talk openly about the problems above. As many people already know well, you cannot tell someone that their solution is disconnected from their original problem; it is ineffective and futile to try to convince someone that they have “been tricked” or are tricking themselves; and pointing out how people are making another problem worse does not work, especially if they value their problems more than your problems. 


We don’t realize it, but we each have an internal prioritized list of problems that we never talk about, because most of us don’t even know that it is there. Most conflict actually arises from people holding problems in different priority orders. Most of the time people do not disagree about whether or not a problem should be solved. They disagree about the order in which those problems should be solved. Because they disagree on the order of those problems, they choose different solutions. When people fight over which solution to implement, they are not actually fighting about that solution, which is why presenting logic and reason about their chosen solution does not work. What they are really fighting about is the order in which to solve those problems, for which they will sometimes fight to the death.

Step 1 in changing how this story plays out is to stop talking about solutions and return to the source. Talk about the Problems that each side is trying to solve. Put all these Problems on the table, talk about them, and understand the Problems that other people hold dear. One perfect example of this is the far-right Q-Anon conspiracy of “Pizza Gate”. People who hold this view believe that there are pedophiles in government, and young children who are being bought and sold to pedophiles. At the same time people on the left get up in arms about Jeffrey Epstein because he bought and sold underage girls for famous people in government. These are actually the same problem. Both sides actually agree on a major, important problem to be solved, but one side believes that the solution is to crack down on Democrats, and the other side believes that the solution is to crack down on Republicans. They fight about the solution, but they agree on the problem. Step 1 is to put the solutions aside, talk about what problems you want to solve, and recognize how many problems you have in common. Some fights even end as soon as all of the problems are visible to everyone.

Step 2 is for each person to recognize how they have ordered these problems in their own brain. Step 2 is not about trying to force someone to change their problem order, however. It is about recognizing how other people see the world differently than you. Upon seeing how someone else prioritizes problems, you will begin to understand how they came to the conclusions that they made. Through this understanding you will be able to begin to see new ways forward.

Step 3 is about sharing evidence with each other. There will be disagreements and arguments about the validity of sources for evidence. This is unavoidable, but a very important step in the process. If you have done steps 1 and 2, you can actually have a fruitful debate about sources of evidence, but if you jump directly to step 3, then discussions will fall apart.

Step 4 is to use the discussed list of Prioritized Problems as a guide for multiple simultaneous experiments designed to evaluate which solutions can solve the most Problems while respecting the agreed upon order of Priority. It is important to stop trying to solve Problems in isolation, and begin looking for new ways to solve multiple Problems at the same time. It is always a better goal to both solve Problems that you care about and solve Problems that other people care about at the same time.


The theory underlying all of our problems and the power of prioritizing them extends from something that was actually summarized well by a former US Secretary of Defense:

“There are known knowns; things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.” 

– Donald Rumsfeld

Behind every disagreement, both sides are facing a situation where they don’t know what they don’t know, but we often assume that it is only the other side. The most efficient and effective way forward is for all those involved to assume that there might be something out there that they don’t know that they don’t know. By sharing knowledge with each other we will either discover something new, which is a win, or we will recognize that information and be able to share evidence to the contrary. Eventually someone will learn something new, which will cause priorities to shift, which will enable perspectives to change.

Logo Source:

Leave a Comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.