Easy vs Good–An Official Rambling

I’ve had some thoughts over the past few weeks, and I wanted to get them down on paper. Virtual paper, at least. One of the nice things about being on vacation is that I have more time to think about things and then write about them. Not that I always take the time, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

Today’s topic? Easy vs. Good. Allow me to explain.

It seems to me that in life, we often choose to do what is easy. Take the path of least resistance. In the short term, there seems to be very few bad effects from this. Say you have to decide between cheating on an exam to get an A, or studying to get a B. Short term, cheating seems like the way to go, hands down. You have a better immediate grade, and all is well with the world. But long term, that easy choice has serious consequences. You’re less prepared for the next test, and more likely to need to resort to cheating to succeed at it, too. In turn, that might set you back in an entire discipline. Cheating becomes the norm as you try to keep your grades up. And then sooner or later the real world steps in, and you stop being able to cheat.

But cheating is just a simple example to illustrate a complex problem. Let’s get a bit more grandiose. How about the economic crisis facing the world?

In many ways, I think much of the cause of the crisis can be found by our tendency to go along with what is easy by default. The housing bubble caused its fair share of the troubles, for example. And in the years leading up to that crisis, I remember one of the fads of the DIY networks was all about flipping houses. Buy a crappy older home in an expensive area, put in a few thousand dollars of work, sell it for a huge profit. Easy. Simple. And why in the world did this seem like a sure fire thing that would never backfire? Housing prices were going through the roof, and all this flipping of houses certainly wasn’t helping. It was inevitable that it would have to burst eventually.

People took out loans they couldn’t afford. Why? Because it was easy. Get something for a little now, and who cares about the consequences in the future? The same thing happened with businesses. They wanted regulation–to make things easier. Wall Street wanted to go go go. And then everything turned south, those same people turned to someone–anyone–to look for a bailout. Why? Because it’s the easy solution.

And let’s go back to the personal level. The same principle applies. Maybe you’re trying to decide what major to pick in college. One seems like an easy option–low credit hours, easier path to graduation–but it might have long term drawbacks (bad job outlook, poor salary). At the time, it’s very easy to justify the easy choice. You’re busy. It would be better to have good grades than a solid degree. Whatever the justification might be.

Say you’re raising your children. You’re busy. There’s a lot going on. It’s easier to let your kids watch TV for an hour a day, and what’s the harm?

But here’s the thing with easy decisions: once you make one, it’s easier to make another. So you let your kids watch an hour a day. So what? And then they want to up it to two. Well, that’s not a huge difference, so why not let them? And why not three?

Maybe you know a person who’s overbearing and no fun to get along with. It’s easier just to let that person have his way all the time. But the more you let that person have his way, the less able you’ll be to make a stand when you need to.

I don’t mean to be preachy here. I’m as at fault for taking the easy choices as the next guy. And what might seem like bad decisions to one person will be perfectly sound decisions to another–so ignore the specific examples in favor of seeing what I’m getting at.

The fact of the matter is that easy choices are not often good choices. Life is all about hard work. Take the idiots in Washington DC. They had a very difficult task in front of them: decide on a compromise of how to manage the debt of the nation. Work together. There was no easy answer–to get a real solution, everyone was going to have to give up something, and no one was going to be happy. But it had to be done. Trust politicians to discover an easy option: do nothing. Throw your hands up and say, “Shucks! I can’t figure it out. This was too tough.”


To solve this problem–and most problems in life–you need to go beyond easy. You need to risk being unpopular and even losing your job. But them’s the breaks when you decided you were fit to be one of the leaders of the country.

I suppose what I’ve been thinking the most about lately is how important it is to stop and look at your life now and then and see if you’re doing anything just because it’s easy–and if that’s still the thing you should be doing. This is NOT something you should do for other people. It’s very easy to see what bad decisions other people are making, and it’s very easy to decide to step in and fix all of them for them.

Do not do this.

It’s difficult to look at your own life and find the bad decisions–and more difficult to fix them. But remember that things that are difficult are most often the things that are also worthwhile. A happy marriage, a thriving family, a successful career, a prosperous country. None of those things appear out of nothing.

So maybe in the end, the decision actually is easy. All you have to do in a situation is look at the relative difficulty of the choices. Gravitate to the more difficult options by default. 🙂

Anyone care to chime in? I’d be curious to hear some other thoughts on the matter.

Happy Tuesday, all.

2 thoughts on “Easy vs Good–An Official Rambling”

  1. Your political examples only work if you assume that solving budget problems is the politicians’ end goal. If it is, then yes, they’re taking the easy way out by giving up and not solving them, but consider instead that their end goal might be, for example, long-term dominance of their political philosophy. In that scenario, solving the immediate budget problems IS the short-term, easy answer, and the harder, more difficult, more “good” path (as you’ve defined it here) is to string out the problems as long as possible in such a way that the other party looks horrible and yours comes out on top. It’s painful now, but sets you up for greater success in the future. Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I don’t think you can assume that a given person or position defines success the way we want them to.

    Which isn’t really what your essay was about, but there you go. These are the things I think about.

  2. Good point, and I don’t doubt that there are politicians who think that it’s in their best interest to let the country crash and burn.

    But that still keeps in with my easy vs. good analysis. It’s easy to do things to sabotage the other party–to make things worse. It’s harder to do the right thing and fix the country.

    You’re right that our standards aren’t others’. And I suppose you could be right that the politicians are purposefully doing the wrong thing–going through all sorts of awful times–in order to have future prosperity. Some of them probably are.

    Politicians are weasels.

    By the way–The Great Gatsby still has yet to be defended. A duel of Magic, perhaps?

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