Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Primrose Path

A primrose path was referred to by Shakespeare and others. It is often meant to denote an attractive path lined with flowers that eventually leads the traveler to an undesireble location.

When I was in college, there was a common thoroughfare from where the students lived to the school buildings. The path passed by a oval filled with grass surrounded by other buildings. There was a worn path across the grassy oval that represented the shortest path from Point A to Point B. The conscientious student would avoid the path so as to try and preserve the grass but the path was used regularly be others to save a few steps. An English professor approached a group of us one day and asked if we would be willing to help her in doing an experiment. She wanted to plant primroses and flowers along the path and put a sign at each end labeling the path as the "Primrose Path". We agreed, so late one night we went out to plant flowers along the path. The next morning, we watched the reaction of people. It appeared that it deterred some from walking along the path, to others it appeared to entice them to walk on the path and to others it seemed to make no difference. Over time, it didn't seem to change behavior much and the flowers eventually died and we pulled them up while the worn dirt path remained.

We are often enticed to take the easy path in life. It is good for a time helping us get to our destination with less work but after awhile, it leads us to places we don't want to be. For the path across the grassy oval, it started fairly innocently by some students who were in a hurry and could save a few steps walking across the grass. As others followed, it eventually became an eyesore. If those who had been first to walk across the oval would have thought about the eventual result of their actions, would they have acted differently?

In our government, we should be wary of taking the easy path. It often looks enticing and politically attractive. Who wouldn't want the promise of "free" this or "free" that? People keep reelecting their representatives because they are good at bringing back "goodies" to their districts. Many of the fiscal problems we are in now are due to the start of well-meaning programs that promised an easy fix to a problem.

We have many issues to resolve in our country. Let's demand that our representatives do the hard work that is required to develop long term solutions. If we keep asking them to "plant flowers" to make the solution attractive now, it will often lead us to an undesirable location. Grass is not as pretty as flowers but a grassy oval is better than one with a dirt path in the middle of it.

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