Why do we say "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem"?

Well-Known Expressions

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem

Meaning:

If you don't take direct action to make things better you're an obstacle to change.

Background:

This saying originates in the USA in the 1960s and is generally attributed to Leroy Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), a writer and political activist, and early leader of the Black Panther Party. But actually it was advertising agency owner Charles Rosner who coined the expression for a now defunct company named VISTA.

When interviewed by the New York Times in 2012, Charlie Rosner, recalled that the campaign was a rush job in response to an offer of free ad space on the sides of Washington’s mail trucks. The promotion included several different catchphrases; Mr. Rosner’s own favorite was "Not exactly the sort of work your mother had in mind for you."

The New York Times contacted Mr. Rosner after politician Paul Ryan's use of the expression, generally attributed to a member of the Black Panthers, caught the attention of the media. When asked by the newspaper if he had plans to collect usage fees off Paul Ryan (or for that matter anyone else), Mr Rosner, a registered Democrat, responded, “certain pieces of the lingo sort of become the property of nobody... This one seems to have the half life of Strontium-90. It’s terrific that he’s using it; it’s a pretty decent set of words to live by.”

Alphabetical list of expressions

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