Shortcuts? We all take them, cutting corners in daily life without a second thought. We cut out sleep, we skip our meals, we skim the boss’s emails instead of reading thoroughly, we make arguments without checking our facts.
We take shortcuts because they’re easier. We take shortcuts because they’re necessary.
We’re tired and we’re busy. We’re out of bucks and out of time. We tell ourselves that compromise is inevitable, and no harm no foul, right?
But what happens when cutting corners turns disastrous?
Shall we cite the litany of the latest instances of bad guys slipping through the cracks, buildings that collapse from disregarding code, and food product that is improperly produced or prepared? How many examples do we have of short cuts taken to new extremes with tragic outcomes?
Short Hair, Less Care
For most of us, shortcuts are not dramatic. On the contrary. Logistics are simpler. For example, a woman may opt for the short cut when it comes to hair, not only because she likes her bob for its style, but it means less maintenance. In fact, some of us take matters into our own hands quite literally, snapping up the scissors to do the deed – hacking, chopping, and thinning when we need to.
I fall into that shortcut (and short cut) category – cutting my own hair for years, wearing it closely cropped and trimming every two weeks. I saved time, dollars, and no one was the wiser.
To me there was little risk and big gain. So why not?
Time Requires Cutting Corners
As for that style, after a decade of the short “do” I indulged in the pleasures of longer locks. But adding motherhood to career and marriage pushed my corner-cutting buttons. Time was a constant constraint, so off went the hair as a matter of ease and priorities.
Returning to the post-divorce dating scene, we’re talking a whole other story! According to my prepubescent son, I needed a different look. So I grew my hair though it came at a price – for products, for washing, for drying, for styling. And, it’s more difficult to cut long hair yourself.
Twice a year I pop by one of those hair cutting chains. It’s inexpensive, convenient, and I’m generally happy with the result. In between? It’s up to me. I take to the bathroom with scissors and chop chop chop – which is exactly what I did last night, lopping off three inches, layering as best I could, and afterward pleased – and relieved I didn’t screw it up.
Necessary Shortcuts vs Moral Relativism
Don’t you take shortcuts from time to time? (I do.) Aren’t they easily justified? (Mine are.) Do you equate them with positive attributes – like thinking fast on your feet or going with the flow? (Self-serving perhaps, but I certainly do it.)
When we’re missing an ingredient for a recipe, we improvise. The result may be spectacular, or quite the opposite. When a new business venture or job imposes impossible deadlines, we may find ourselves pulling the caffeine-fueled all-nighter, and leaving our ‘tweens to their pop-tarts and television.
We take our shortcuts in the name of expediency, necessity, sanity. We weigh the pros and cons, and if the downside isn’t serious, the decision is a no-brainer.
And when we’re barraged by competing needs from partners, parents, kids, co-workers, clients? When they’re all demanding our limited time, energy, and money? Do shortcuts become a way of life? Do they lead us to constant compromise of our standards in some murky middle world of moral relativism?
When the Short Cut Goes Wrong
Cutting my own hair?
It’s a time saver to be sure. And if I mess up, it’s easily dealt with.
When we cut corners blindly, routinely, arrogantly, fueled by emotion – poor judgment owns the upper hand. We just may finish in a tougher spot than where we began – hurting ourselves and others, and living with regrets.
Sure, circumstances matter. Desperate times, and all that. Adulthood recognizes few moral absolutes, and requires us to make difficult decisions. Sometimes we’re choosing between the lesser of two evils, understanding that life is about risk more often than we’d like.
If we’re fortunate, we also realize that experience and perspective are excellent teachers.
Risk and Reward
Some I rely on regularly, and others as a last resort. I try to consider the worst possible outcome as part of balancing risk and reward.
During the most grueling of my single parenting years – a familiar juggle to many – finding new ways to get everything done was a must. If integrity isn’t compromised, if relationships aren’t compromised, if safety and health aren’t compromised, I’m likely to venture the unknown path – not only as a means to facilitate getting from A to B, but in the hope of stumbling into a better solution.
After all, shortcuts aren’t inherently bad – they buy us efficiency, they free up time for other pursuits, they lead us to discovery, they broaden our skills, and they may well foster innovation. Sometimes, the short cut becomes the newest direct path, as taking a little risk leads us to indisputable reward.
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