Convenience is something we all enjoy.
Instant noodles. High-speed wireless internet. Short commuting distances. We like all of these things because they make our lives a little bit easier.
Though we might not realize it, this pursuit of convenience is deeply engrained in all of us. So much, in fact, that we will often base our decisions on whether or not it is “convenient” for us. Why do we love convenience so much?
One obvious reason is that we value our time. We like convenience because it allows us to maximize our time. If we can kill two birds with one stone, we’ll do it. Rather than taking a separate trip just for buying groceries, for instance, my wife and I will often get food from local supermarkets right after our language class.
We also like convenience because it’s much easier. Many of us choose to take the path of least resistance. If I’m meeting with a Chinese friend with really good English, it’s very likely that our entire conversation will be in English since my Chinese isn’t good enough. I could try speaking Chinese, but communication would be a lot harder.
In spite of how highly we regard convenience, I believe that it can become a big problem for us when we rely on it too much.
For starters, convenience can make us lazy. Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t really want to cook today?” What you’re really saying is that you don’t want to spend the time it takes to cook. On particularly long and tiring days, my wife and I will have moments like these and usually eat something extremely simple, or we’ll eat out.
All over the world, we have access to fast food restaurants. Ramen noodles in Chinese are called 方便面, which literally means “convenient noodles.” Here you can see that convenience can sometimes be unhealthy!
Sometimes convenience means settling for lower quality work. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in China, especially when it comes to construction or repair jobs. Workers here choose the quick build/fix method, which basically means things here end up falling apart faster.
We’ve all encountered situations that are less than convenient for us. Many aspects of living in a foreign country can be quite inconvenient, especially when you first arrive. The tasks that you thought would be simple can actually be quite time-consuming and difficult. If you don’t know the local language, this simply adds to the frustration.
As a foreigner living in China, I’ve discovered that many Chinese people will refuse to offer their services to you if it’s inconvenient for them. At best they will do it very reluctantly. This one time we were trying to bring a few suitcases from a bus station to our friend’s apartment. No less than three taxis turned us down because they saw all the suitcases and didn’t want to bother with us. “Not enough room!” they said, even though we knew we would be able to fit everything in easily.
It’s aggravating for me to see how small inconveniences can be massive hindrances in Chinese culture. And it makes me a little upset to see how Chinese people will only do things if it’s convenient for them.
But upon further reflection, I’ve realized that so many cultures (including the one that I come from) essentially worship convenience. We glorify convenience as the most important factor in our decision-making, when in reality it should be one of several things to take into consideration.
It’s very easy for us to assume that the convenient option is always better than the inconvenient one. And in some cases this is true. For example, you probably wouldn’t take the least direct bus route to your destination – not unless you had plenty of time to kill and wanted to take the scenic route.
But sometimes doing what’s inconvenient is actually the most rewarding. You know those moments when a friend asks you to help them with something and you do it, even when it’s not super convenient for you? In most cases, you’ll feel better about yourself after helping your friend because you knew it was the right thing to do.
Convenience is still a good thing. But it might not always be the best.
What do you think about convenience vs. inconvenience? How are the decisions in your life reflected by whether something is convenient or not? Have you ever been denied something from someone else because it was too inconvenient for them?