Band-aids for Life

Curtain Rod

Image by drbrain via Flickr

 Originally I intended this post to be from my engineer perspective and talked about roads, but an easier analogy appeared. So, instead I have shifted my first argument to the end, making this 2 posts on the same subject.

Have you tried to buy a shower curtain in the last decade? With the recent exception of curved rods becoming popular in hotels, the supply has gone from solid rods with fixed supports at both ends to a spring-loaded, adjustable type that can quickly be adjusted to match any shower. The thing is, the spring-rod falls down from time to time. More accurate to say often. Sure you can install it quick and easy. Sure you can pick it up and replace it easy. It is much simpler then measuring, cutting the rod, screwing in the supports, then going back to the store for another rod because you measured once and cut twice. But how many times do you want to install a curtain rod? I only want to do it once. Or twice if one my children tries to do pull-ups on it and it breaks. Spring-rods need re-installing often, and a good number of the installs are done while you are showering. Still seem easier?

Oftentimes, it seems that we take a similar approach to our sins. It is easier to re-install the rod, ask forgiveness for the same sin, without really fixing the problem–that the rod/we fell. It is easier to slap a band-aid on the sin, or even on the forgiveness of the sin, then it is to change our lives, or do things differently. Our human nature means we will sin, but we don’t have to keep committing the same sins again. We pave over our shortcomings in a temporary manner because it is easier, quicker, and who wants to get out the saw and do it right?

The Engineer’s Anecdote to the same end:

As an engineer I have had numerous occasions during the 13 years I have lived in Alabama to work with and for the Alabama Department of Transportation. Yesterday I was riding down the interstate admiring the workmanship that ALDOT Contractors have done on the interstates of Alabama. Contrary to popular belief, the AL in ALDOT does not stand for Alabama, but rather Asphalt Laying. Asphalt seems to be the construction method of choice, and has for quite a number of decades.

Engineers at all levels argue the merits of asphalt and concrete, but most are committed to one choice over the other. Asphalt is cheaper, easier to construct and repair, even though it is thicker and needs to be replaced sooner. Concrete is more expensive, harder to construct and repair, but is thinner and lasts much longer. Pay now or pay later becomes the issue. Asphalt is pay later, concrete is pay now. Three of the four pieces of parchment with my name hanging on the wall from institutions of higher learning are in the field of civil engineering, specializing in transportation; I have for some time understood the difference between concrete and asphalt roads. I know which I prefer. I also have a firm grasp of the time value of money and know that the present value of money is less than the future value. Boiling that down: today’s money is cheaper than tomorrow’s money–concrete is worth the extra cost, IF done right.

Now, I am certain that the leadership of ALDOT which mandates maximum gift sizes for employees from contractors and consultants (used to be between $25 and $50), is in no way swayed by gifts. After all, that is why their size is mandated, it’s a matter of ethics. The front office of ALDOT has (or had the last I knew) 2 of the biggest, fanciest, high-priced coffee makers you could ever imagine. These are provided by makers and providers of asphalt. The decision between asphalt and concrete is so one-sided it seems a joke in Alabama. The few areas of roads that were built of concrete in this state were built so poorly, or under-designed that it seems obvious to use asphalt to reconstruct. However, the standard is not uniformly applied. The poorly built or under-designed asphalt roads are simply repaired or replaced. A multi-colored quilt of potholes and patches abounds on many roads, especially the interstates of central Alabama.

The standard answer is that asphalt is cheap and easy to replace. This argument is similar to the shower curtain response.

Oftentimes, it seems that we take this approach to our sins. It is easier to slap some asphalt in a hole, ask forgiveness for the sin without really fixing the problem. Oh sure, we can come back later and overlay the whole road, cover it up, make it look good as new. It is easier to slap a band-aid on the sin, or on the forgiveness of the sin, then it is to change our lives, or do things differently. We pave over our shortcomings in a temporary manner because it is easier, quicker, and who wants to get out the saw and do it right? Concrete is liquid stone, when it sets whatever imperfections there are become set in stone. Good, bad or otherwise. It costs more, it’s harder to install, but when it is finished, it lasts. Our human nature means we will sin, but we don’t have to keep committing the same sins again. There is a choice, install the right surface, the right way and move on.

Update: Found a Bob Dylan quote that seems appropriate: “People seldom do what they believe in.  They do what is convenient, then repent.” Love him or hate him, over his 50 year career Bob has said some things that are acutely accurate and cut to the chase true. When you can understand what he’s singing.

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