My lawn tractor was busted. I was mowing one day, stopped it on the top of my driveway, and at the next crank, it said, "no thanks. I'm good."

I tried about four of five different Dr. Internet suggestions and about $100 in parts. Crank. Nothing. Finally,  the problem hit me like a ton of bricks: the engine had run out of oil and seized up when I stopped it last.


Once this realization hit me, I spent half the day down because I couldn't possibly fix this problem. Plus, I can't afford a new mower. I sat. I thought. Wait. Light bulb: can't I just buy a new engine for the tractor?

Suddenly I felt better knowing I could fix the problem.

The Human Condition

Our regular state of affairs in daily life involves problem solving. Among animals we are unique: because we have an intellect and a will, we can think about things and choose the solution that seems best. We like to solve. Even in our leisure, we often choose activities, like board games and puzzles, that involve figuring things out.

This need to tackle problems certainly reveals something about us; we also see how the created world remains incomplete without our action. Prestine, untouched nature is a gift, but it is not always the ideal. We're meant to interact with the world created by God in order to provide for our daily lives.

The biggest argument against utopia is simply this: if everything were perfect and right, and nothing were required of us, life would certainly loose a great deal of its meaning. Instinctively, we know this in our every day interactions. It's why we speak of "winners and loosers" in everything from business to sports to love. Everything can't always turn out right subjectively for each one of us. And that failure to turn out right is ok: it means we have a new set of problems in front of us to handle.

This constant need to solve problems is certainly humbling. No matter what we achieve, the perfect and ideal is still outside of our grasp. Our time of rest only happens  with leaving things undone. That's why virtue remains so important. While skill and abilities allow us to tackle newer and more complex problems, it's the habits of soul, the strengths we develop in our character that allow us each day to renew our commitment to take up the tasks at hand and in front of us.

The Ideal is Not Attainable

My home is lovely, but it requires a lot of maintenance and work. I'm sure I could get something a bit more put together. But I like trying to figure out how to fix things. As a father, I want my kids to see that constant work so that they can know that with work, they too can make things good.

In politics, culture, and yes, even the Church, when confronted with problems of corruption we express that "if only" things were better, "if only" evils were rooted out, "if only" we knew the truth, "if only" we craft these policies, then will life be better. But that "if only" is the end of the rainbow, a target unacheivable because it ignores the reality of the world around us. 

Problems will constantly come up. They may of our own foolish making (such as my failure to check my engine oil regularly) or they might be thanks to the lack of virtue in our leaders. But there is no one solution or policy or right teaching that will rid of us of these problems completely. There are only problems that require our energy and attention to solve in the best way we can. 

What's humbling is that as we work to fix one thing, something else will appear. While my tractor was broken, my lawn grew longer and thicker. Once I dropped a new engine into my tractor, it ran. Now my blades need sharpening.  That's not necessarily frustrating. It's just life. 

And that's good.

Mattias A. Caro is the Executive Editor of Ethika Politika.