Somebody else's problem

I was introduced to the “Somebody Else’s Problem field” concept by Douglas Adams in his book, “Life, the Universe and Everything,” when I was in the eighth grade. At the time, I did not believe such a thing existed. My children, however, have provided irrefutable proof of the existence of this field.

The Somebody Else’s Problem field is something like a magnetic field. It utilizes a person’s natural tendency to ignore things they don’t easily accept and makes those things go unnoticed. It sounds fanciful, but my children have given me as much confidence in this field now as I have in the field of gravity.

I asked my son on several successive mornings to carry his hamper to the laundry room. Several successive evenings he explained the presence of the hamper in his room, saying, “I guess I forgot.”

When I saw the overflowing hamper in his room, I almost took it myself. Resisting the temptation, I used my finite fatherly wisdom to placed the hamper in front of his door where I assumed he could not miss it. I hadn’t taken into account the Somebody Else’s Problem field which made the hamper invisible to him. I still cannot fathom how he squeezed past.

“Didn’t you see your hamper?” I asked that evening.

“No,” he replied, “I didn’t notice it.”

That was the Somebody Else’s Problem field at work. His concern is wearing the clothes. It’s somebody else’s problem to make sure they get to the laundry room.

It’s not only the boy who has fallen victim to the Somebody Else’s Problem field. One afternoon while I was in the shower after mowing the lawn, I heard the phone ring. It rang until the call went to voice mail. Then the phone rang again, and again. Had I been alone in the house, this would have made sense. My daughter, however, was downstairs, just steps away from the phone. I began to wonder if something had happened to her.

As soon as I stepped out of the shower, I threw on my robe to answer the phone that was ringing again. When I picked up the phone, my wife asked, “Is everything okay? I’ve been trying to get you on the phone.” She wanted to let me know that she would be a little late.

After getting myself together, I went downstairs to ask my daughter why she didn’t answer the phone. “I didn’t hear it,” she explained. “I wasn’t expecting a call.”

If a teenager isn’t expecting a call when the phone rings, it is somebody else’s problem, and the field kicks in. It is almost as reliable as gravity.

For adults, the field does not appear quite as readily. We are able to take on problems that truly are somebody else’s. Rather than letting them go unnoticed, we let them keep us awake at night. On the other hand, maybe there are things we don’t notice because they are somebody else’s problem.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 9:37 AM, 05.19.2015