Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Shortest Route

There's something in human nature that wants to take the shortest route between two points.  That makes perfect sense when cutting across a field, and no sense at all when riding on surface roads that have been laid out with engineered precision.  But, we see the effects of 'shortest route' actions all the time.  Instead of going around the block to approach an imminent right hand turn from the proper lane, I've seen people cut across three or more lanes of traffic to get to the turning lane.  Sometimes that 'shortest route' results in a collision and multiple injuries.

It seems we often like to take the 'shortest route' in our thinking as well. How many times have you heard undocumented workers referred to as 'illegals.'  Not even illegal immigrants or people without green cards -- just 'illegals.'  I've read the word 'illegals' in media accounts, heard it on talk shows, and in personal conversations, too.   Admittedly it takes more time to reference 'people who are undocumented workers,' or 'the children of undocumented residents,' or immigrants without documentation.  But, this 'shortest route' doles out injuries every time it is used.  It turns people into 'criminals' with one word.  It ignores the dignity of the human beings referred to and short-changes their intentions.  Most of the people we've learned about in the course "Immigration as A Moral Issue" exemplify the phrase 'undocumented workers'.  They are working as many hours a week as they can at poorly paid jobs, hoping to support family members in the U.S. as well as family members back home where a lack of jobs makes it impossible to reach for the dignity of working for wages.

In this case, taking the 'shortest route' also does damage to people using the phrase.  It allows them to think they've captured the essence of an extremely complex problem in one word.  It allows them to place themselves in the category 'legal' without considering the long journey their forebears took to grant them that status.

The shortest route can be lovely when traversing a field of daisies, but, it can be an impediment to reasoned thought and debate when applied to complicated issues.  - Robin Gray