“No , Google, that’s not what I want.”
Not an unusual conversation under any circumstances. Doubly so when it involved Google Maps, as I wrestled with my phone screen to make at least one sensible route appear. (And by “sensible,” I meant of course, “route that I like.”)
I have nothing against the great orienteering tool of the 21st century. Most of the time, it’s been a godsend to me since I lack any real sense of direction. I’ve often said that the one direction I can reliably find is “down,” so long as I remember to leave my shoelaces untied first. It’s helped to know that the mountains are always west – at least, until I moved to Kansas for nine years, which may explain why my first attempt to find Lake Eisenhower ultimately led me to two ruts in a farmer’s field.
Ah, the good old days.
This time, though, it was being recalcitrant. I needed to visit the office of an out-of-town veterinarian friend. Google Maps was perfectly willing to take me there – so long as I used I-25, in part or in whole. Which for me, is a little like saying “You can come to the Bronco game, so long as you wear black and silver and carry a banner that says ‘Go, Raiders.’ “
I’m not totally unreasonable. I’ll use our great, great interstate when the time is right – say, 10 or 11 at night, when the cars are scarce and the exits are easy to reach. After all, there’s nothing wrong with I-25 that removing 90 percent of the traffic wouldn’t cure.
After the electronic equivalent of twisting one arm behind Google’s back, the map finally, reluctantly, gave me what I wanted. It wasn’t the fastest route there. In fact, it overshot the mark by a little bit in order to cross beneath the interstate and then double back. But it would take me on a route I trusted and get me where I wanted to go.
The fastest route is tempting. But it’s not always the best one.
As I write that last sentence, I’m tempted to look over my shoulder for the American Inquisition. After all, that’s heresy for us, and not just in driving. This is a nation that often loves straight lines, simple answers and clear-cut decisions. And sometimes bulling through despite the complications does help us find a better way forward, like Indiana Jones in the bazaar blowing away a master swordsman with one shot.
Most of the time, though, it leads to frustration. If everything must be simple, then opponents must be crazy or wrong – after all, any reasonable person should clearly be able to see you’re correct. If things must be resolved quickly, then anyone who says “Hey, wait, what about this,” is the enemy, or at least wasting precious time.
And so discussions become debates become arguments. Positions get polarized with opponents seen as little more than cartoons. We dig in – and when you dig in, nobody is moving forward.
Health care. Immigration. Gun control. Each of us could name a dozen issues where we’ve had the same discussion over and over again without moving an inch. Many of these are high-stakes issues where people care passionately and deeply, which makes it even harder.
Most problems don’t have a single, sweeping solution. They require smaller steps on a number of fronts, as we define what we really want and what that looks like in each piece of the situation. That takes longer – and that’s hard when a sense of urgency is there. But it also means the solutions we reach are likely to be better fits, creating a path forward one cobblestone at a time.
The best route is not always the fastest. It’s the one that gets you where you want to go.
Let’s start mapping, shall we?
NOTE: Thank you to the many, many people who wished us and Missy well after last week’s column, “A Day In Emergency.” She’s been doing great and is as sassy and sweet as ever. We appreciate your thoughts!