In a Perfect World
You need to get from Point A to Point B, and you want to know the distance between them. The answer depends on how you plan to get there. “As the crow flies, you’re two miles away. On the ground, that’ll be five miles.” Clearly, there are advantages to being a bird.
There are times when the direct route is the best route. You want to get where you’re going as quickly as possible. Efficiency is a byword of our society, and there’s no question that taking to the air will slice in half the time you need to get there. And I’m not talking only about physical miles.
There are situations that call upon us to take direct measures to accomplish an important goal. For example, suppose you see a child being bullied. You could take the roundabout route of going home and phoning the bully’s parents, principals and teachers. The passage of time will rob the situation of its immediacy. Your eyewitness account will lose some of its power in the telling. You can only hope that your concerns will eventually filter down to the perpetrator in a not-too-undiluted form, and that positive action will ensue.
Or you can take the direct route: step right into the breach and confront the bully yourself. On the spot. Straightforward measures to rectify a clear and present injustice.
When people fall out, they have the same two options. They can take indirect measures and hope for the best. Speaking around the topic to others who are not directly involved, hoping that these third parties will help bring about a reconciliation. Dropping hints that may or may not be picked up. Giving verbal cues that may or may not be understood.
Or we can choose the direct path, aiming to reach our goal by the shortest route possible route—as the crow flies. We say what needs to be said, or at least broadcast the message so that our meaning is incontrovertibly clear: I regret what happened. I would love to get our relationship back on track. I want to heal the breach. We can transmit the message in any number of ways. A personal visit or call to the other party in the conflict. A soft word. An outstretched hand. A hug.
The direct route is much scarier than the indirect one. We run the risk of looking weak, or stammering foolishly, or worst of all, having our gesture thrown back into our face. But a ruptured relationship needs to be repaired. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for an open, heart-to-heart talk with someone who matters to us.
Sometimes just seeing the sincerity in the other person’s eyes is enough to make us drop our defenses. And once those walls are down, there’s no saying how far the two of you can go!
All in the Name of Efficiency
There’s a job that needs to be done, and you want to accomplish it with as little wasted effort as possible. You get all your ducks lined up in a row and then you proceed to shoot them down. Bang-bang-bang: you knock items off your to-do list. Rapidly. Efficiently. What could be better?
Nothing… if you’re dealing with machines or other inanimate objects. The problem creeps in when you’re working with people. Because it is all too easy to dehumanize people and rob them of their sense of personal value. All in the name of efficiency.
Birds fly high above the roil of humanity. The soar free, kings of the air. Looking down on us poor, earthbound creatures plodding along below, they may well feel superior. Conceited. A person who takes that stance runs the risk of regarding his fellows in a similarly remote fashion, like chess pieces on some vast, impersonal board. Things to be moved around so as to further his own, all-important goals.
To use the feathered analogy again, in his quest to get the job done he looks to “kill two birds with one stone”… even if the so-called birds are people just like him. All in the name of efficiency.
The Nazis, y”sh, were efficient. And no one outshined them in the field of dehumanization. Apart from the destructive horror they inflicted, who else ever thought of taking living, breathing, thinking human beings, stamping them with a number and processing them like so many packages of meat?
All in the name of efficiency.
We share nothing with those despicable fiends. Still, we too can stumble in the area of dehumanizing and depersonalizing those around us. As parents, as teachers, as employers, as organizers, we can find ourselves trying to herd the people in our charge in a certain direction, at a certain speed, in order to achieve a certain goal. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of treating even our own children in a brusque, unseeing fashion, focused more on crossing those items off our to-do lists than on the youngsters’ individuality and their needs of the moment.
We are apt to do the same with fellow shoppers, drivers, and the like. In fact, we are prone to adopt this attitude with anyone who threatens to disrupt the smooth flow of our progress and make a shambles of our sacred daily schedule. We may not say it, but we certainly feel it: “I’m trying to get somewhere. Get out of my way!”
Missing the Wonder
The opposite of taking the direct and most efficient route to where we’re going is to slow down and get there… eventually. You lose something this way, for sure. Mostly, you lose speed. But the gains are immeasurable.
When you stop flying and slow down to a walking pace, details that may have escaped you before suddenly loom larger. You start to notice things, little tokens of beauty and interest that passed you by when you were passing them by. Because the pace is slower, you have the chance to hold a child’s hand and meander together instead of hurrying him along. You have the chance to listen to him talk and see the world through his eyes.
When you slow down, you lose some speed and efficiency, but you gain a whole lot of wonder.
When you use the slow, overground route instead of taking to the air, you get to breathe. You feel the earth beneath your feet. You walk through terrain that may not always be smooth but hardly ever fails to be interesting. The effort it takes to climb hills and traverse valleys builds our muscles and helps us grow. Flying may get us there faster, but walking builds us.
In short, when crisis calls, there’s no question that a direct route is called for. To rectify an injustice, to heal a breach, or just to get the job done. But when it comes to our general passage through this marvelous world, slowing down is not a bad idea. When you move too fast, the scenery is just a blur and your fellow travelers hardly more than faces, scarcely glimpsed before they’re gone. If you suit your steps to the tempo of those around you, if you’re willing to feel the ground beneath your soles, rough or smooth, and soak up the wonder of being rather than doing, life becomes a whole different experience.
Yes, we all have things to do and places to go. Sometimes we long for a pair of wings. But let’s not forget the wonder that lurks behind every corner, if only we can move slowly enough to see it.
Yes, you’re going places… but let’s never forget that getting there is half the fun!