Wicked situations

Some years ago, in my studies, I came across the term “wicked situations”, and it has bugged me ever since. I thought I would do my customary google search to throw further light and drew a near blank, making me realize this is either a concept that isn’t commonly articulated, assuming it is recognized, or it goes under a different label. But in all sorts of scenarios, I often find myself faced with wicked situations which I need to deal with, one way or another.

One way to put it is: “you are dammed if you do and you are dammed if you don’t” or in another way: there is no right or wrong answer and where critical thinking is needed to determine the best course of action . One example that springs to mind relates to an incident around two years ago, connected to the soup kitchen I help with. It happened that it was pouring with rain and given we normally operate in the open air we were stuck. It happened we had access to a nearby building and decided to operate from there at short notice rather than send the guests away. This did cause ruptures as might be expected and we might have done things differently, but at least several hungry rough sleepers got fed.

It seems to me that it is possible to live life in one of two ways, albeit with variants and exceptions. We can either take the safe option, organizing ourselves properly and restricting ourselves to doing only what we are obliged to do and ignore the needs around us, or we can see things around us that need doing and we do it, come what may. The issue with the former course, which I daresay the majority take, is it is safe and we are less liable to upset others, even if lots of things are left undone and the needy don’t get the help they need. The issue with the latter course, which I daresay the minority take, is it is less safe and we are more liable to upset others, but there is every possibility that things do get done and the needy are helped.

I realize this is rather a simplistic assessment, but in my community work, it has often struck me there is tendency for people to belong to one or other group, and those I tend to work with are in the latter group. I should say, most are lovely and have my respect because often they do what is encapsulated in an ancient prayer: “teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will”, and some don’t even believe in the Lord! One of the downsides is such folk can be prickly, easily offend and be offended, not always wise and often exhibit a range of rough edges. But I much rather deal with such than those who do nothing, rationalizing the unmet needs around them are not their problem.

In my own specific sphere of community activism – homelessness, I come across wicked situations all the time. It would be quite simple to avoid these by doing what the priest and Levite did in the parable of “the Good Samarian”, and walk by on the other side. Sometimes I do that in order to maintain sanity and not burn out, as often happens to those who go that extra mile. But often I do help, realizing not just my own limitations in what I can offer by way of help, but the limitations of and gaps in the system when it comes to helping where I can’t, and it then becomes a matter of deciding what to do for the best, according to the situation and resources, bringing me back to wicked situations again. Here another prayer seems apt: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.  Yet we must do what needs doing, with what we have.

What prompted me to blog about wicked situations was not my experiences as a community activists, as relevant as some of these are, but something someone raised in last night’s prayer meeting at my church: he asked that we pray for Aleppo, which has become a centre of a massive humanitarian disaster, but the issue my friend pointed out that there were a million people and no hospital to serve them, and this on top of war and hunger, and much else besides. I thought about those people in the light of the “interested parties”: the Assad regime, Russian and American interests, ISIS, other resistant groups, and in the light of God’s sovereignty and goodness, the lies we are being fed from all sides, the conflict that seems to be unending despite the efforts to end it, the refugee situation with implications back home, the good that might arise out of evil etc., and I said my prayer. This is an archetypal wicked situation and yet in my today’s search I find: “A message from the people of Aleppo to the world” and take note there are people who at great personal cost are serving those in desperate need.

Someone who recently came back onto my radar after many years is the American Evangelist, Arthur Blessitt. He became known because of his work among “Flower Power” and hippie type people back in the 1970’s, and undertook a mission to walk around the world, trying to visit EVERY country while carrying a cross, testifying to the message of the cross and how it can change lives and bring about healing, wholeness and reconciliation. Watching a video of his story, I found to my surprise he is still doing this and over the years has found himself in many wicked situations, because of the danger, as he carried on this work. While Arthur may have been uniquely chosen for this task, it is evident that not only was he having to negotiate all sorts of wicked situations but he has a message whereby we can make sense of the bemusing things happening.


At the outset, I made mention of a lack of stuff on the Internet discussing the Wicked Situations phenomenon. Yet I did come across the above quote, which I am using as my avatar to this post. For many (and I hope for all who read this), whatever your views on religion and politics etc, doing justice is important and necessary and, if you do as I hope, you will encounter wicked situations.


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