Taking the easy way out

Taking the easy way out is a concept that is much frowned upon, especially in India (though I must confess I don’t have enough exposure to other cultures to have noticed this). When you take the easy way out on something, people assume that you’re cheating – like you’re using a cheat code in a computer game.

For example, purists believe that if one were to get the good karma that one deserves by going to Tirupati, it will accrue if and only if you were to walk up the hill on foot. People who take the easy way out by taking a cab or bus uphill apparently don’t get as much good karma.

During festivals such as Sankranti, people who buy the sugar candies and the eLL (sesame) mixture from a shop are again frowned upon, given they are taking the easy way out rather than preparing them at home. Employing a cook is similarly frowned upon, as is taking an auto rickshaw or a cab rather than a bus.

And to take an example that long-time readers of this blog might appreciate, fighters tend to view studs with derision since the latter seemingly get things done without putting in the same amount of effort as the former.

Ok I might have claimed in the past that my pieces are usually long on analysis and short on rhetoric, but as you can see, this is not one of those pieces. All I’ve done so far is to give examples of something that I don’t agree with.

And the reason I don’t agree with the view that taking the easy way out is wrong is because it is done if and only if it’s optimal. Notice that in all the above examples, there is no free lunch. Taking the easy way out comes at a cost, and reflects a set of trade offs. To take the car up Tirupati costs money, and the opportunity of experiencing the supposedly electric hillsides – and benefits are uncertain anyway in religious matters. Employing a cook or taking an auto are efficient if you value time and convenience, for example.

While I agree that there might be some cases where taking the easy way out might be short-termist (you might be ignoring “tail risks”, for example, which allows you to use an easy pricing model, or by using a calculator you may not develop your long-term arithmetic skills), in most cases it is considered decision.

In other words, there is no problem with taking the easy way out as long as you have fully understood the costs and benefits (including any tail risks) of the method that you’ve chosen to adopt. There is no absolute virtue attached to labour – labour is always a means to get to an end. Once you digest this, you will have no hesitation in taking the easy way out.

Religious functions and late lunches

I remember being invited for a distant relative’s housewarming ceremony a few years back. The invitation card proudly stated “lunch: 12:30 pm”. I had a quiz to attend later that afternoon, at 3 pm, I think. Knowing there was enough slack for me to go to the function, thulp lunch and then go to the quiz, I went. At 12:15 (I have this habit of turning up at functions fifteen minutes prior to food; that way I don’t get bored, and people won’t think I’ve “just come for lunch”). Some ceremonies were going on. 1:15. Ceremonies continue to go on, no sign of lunch. 1:45, I realize there’s no slack at all, and want to leave without eating. Relatives get offended. Finally I went to the cooks, thulped some sweets and went off to the quiz.

Almost ten years back. My thread ceremony (upanayanam/brahmopadesham/munji). The priest arrives at the hall at eight o’clock, a full thirty minutes late. “My colleagues are coming at 12:30”, explains my father, “and we should serve lunch by that time. I don’t care what shortcuts you use but make sure we can serve lunch then”. Maybe munji rituals aren’t that compressable after all. Come 12:30, there were still quite a few procedures to go. Lunch was served while the ceremony continued to go on.

Religious functions are notorious for serving lunch late, and the religious purpose of the function is often used as an excuse to do so. I fully support religious freedom, and fully appreciate people’s choice to perform whatever ceremonies that they want. Keeping guests waiting while you do that and delaying their lunch, however, I think is gross disrespect for the guests’ time. And the sad thing is that religion is usually given as an excuse for this disrespect of time.

When you bring religion into a debate, it sometimes becomes tough to pursue a rational debate. In religious functions, if you were to make even the smallest noises about the timing of lunch, you are accused of being inconsiderate, an ingrate, and for having come there only for the food (I don’t know if the last mentioned is actually a crime). It is disrespectful to leave from such functions unless you’ve eaten, and so you are trapped into cancelling other appointments, and staying on until they actually decide to take pity and serve lunch.

I’ve brought up this topic in family forums a few times, and each time I’ve been chided for making such a big issue of something trivial. I don’t, however, understand how lunch is a trivial issue. And how disrespect for people’s time is a trivial issue. I have decided that the next time I attend one such religious function, where there is potential for the hosts to waste guests’ time by serving food inordinately late, I’ll take along a framed printout of Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem. And tell them that all their prayers and respect to god will have no effect unless they also respect their fellow men.