Convenience: The state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty (online Oxford Dictionary).
It’s a frigid winter morning here in central Maine with a wind chill taking us into double-digit negative temperatures and a big winter storm approaching. I’m wrapped in a blanket, sitting in my attic aerie in the thin winter sunshine, listening to the wind and thinking about convenience.
The weather is inconvenient. I was hoping to load up the car for another trip to storage, but the wind chill is dangerous. Frostbite can occur in 10 minutes at these temperatures. The wind and cold have polished the ice and snow in our driveway to a slippery gloss, unforgiving as concrete. Nothing about the sound of the wind or the house creaking in the cold makes me want to leave my cozy blanket and chair and go out.
I think I’ll have another cup of tea instead.
I’ve never lived in a really old house before I came to Maine. The farmhouse we’re in now is 200 years old, and the house we’re in the process of trying to buy is more than 100 years old. I’ve learned, since I came here, to expect these old places to be less convenient in terms of closet space, ceiling height, finished basements, upstairs heat, and bathrooms than more modern homes.
Without considering it, I’ve always assigned a negative feeling to inconvenience. I read a few sentences from Seth Godin this week that made me think hard about the meaning and implications of convenience.
Looking at the definition above, I immediately notice how subjective it is. What may be entirely convenient for me can be ridiculously inconvenient for someone else, and vice versa. This is a challenge in my primary relationship. My partner cares a lot about convenience – his own. However, our ideas about what’s functional and workable are frequently quite different.
So here’s my first set of questions: where is the line between convenience and laziness? Is there a line? Should there be a line?
Godin opines that people will trade privacy and money for convenience, and I know from my own experience we sometimes behave as if we value convenience over relationships.
That seems wrong to me. Do we really care more about our own convenience – where things are kept, how we manage recycling and trash, how to load a dishwasher, how to position a roll of paper towels or toilet paper, how to iron a shirt – than our relationships?
Have I ever done that?
No, of course not!
I have certainly received that message from others: I care more about having it my way than I do about you.
At the other end of the spectrum, I will say without hesitation there are certain “inconveniences” nobody should tolerate. Like being systematically abused or bullied, or ignoring a chronic issue that’s dangerous or a health concern. A car with a broken hatch or door that flies open while driving, for example, is more than an inconvenience.
Do we tolerate those kinds of things because it’s more inconvenient to deal with them than it is to live with them?
Speaking for myself, the answer is maybe. I will, and have, and do, tolerate constant small inconveniences because I value relationship more than my own comfort (not necessarily a healthy thing, especially when unreciprocated), and I find conflict and tension so unbearably inconvenient. I’d rather deal with my slow accumulation of resentment than stand up for what I find convenient in the context of a relationship and risk friction.
As I said, convenience is so subjective it’s hard to get on the same page in terms of discussing it. Convenience works in the shadows. We don’t talk or think about it directly. How many unconscious decisions a day do we make in an effort to make our busy, noisy lives more convenient, never counting the cost to ourselves or those around us?
The cost of convenience. Not only monetary cost, but time, energy, social, environmental costs. Cars are indispensable for most of us. If we don’t have our own, we have access to some kind of mass transit. But we pay for our cars, and the planet suffers for them. Plastic is unbelievably convenient. It’s also choking the planet to death.
Convenience is a moving target. Having to walk through a big house to the one bathroom is not as convenient as an en suite bathroom, but it sure beats having to go out to the outhouse! When do we have enough convenience? When are we satisified with our privileges?
At what point have we taken convenience too far? How do we persuade ourselves and others to accept something more inconvenient but healthier and more sustainable for everyone, including the planet?
Undeniably, our search for more convenience has motivated countless amazing technological and design breakthroughs. Our desire for convenience can fuel our adaptability and resilience, our creativity, and underpins movements like minimalism.
But are we entitled to demand ever-increasing convenience from the world and those around us? Do we have a right to encounter no difficulty, have to make no effort?
Absolutely not. Because our convenience may be creating inconvenience for someone else, which they may or may not express. For me, this boils down to what I’ve learned about needs: My needs are as important but not more important than anyone else’s.
My convenience is as important but not more important than anyone else’s. None of us can escape others, not in this crowded world. And that means we’re all going to encounter difficulty and we’re all going to have make an effort, whether it’s convenient or not. Inevitably, some of us will make more effort than others, and it’s up to those hard-working people (emotional labor, anyone?) to refrain from enabling others in a quest for total convenience.
Perhaps inconvenience, like discomfort, is not negative at all. Maybe it shapes us in powerful, positive ways, helping us stay creative and flexible, reminding us to stay present with our true priorities and whether our actions reflect them.
Sometimes we’re going to have to change our plans to accommodate the weather.
Sometimes we’re going to have to walk through a couple of rooms or down the stairs to use our bathroom.
Sometimes we’re going to have to deal with the inconvenience of other people or pets.
We can choose convenience over all the rest. We can. But, as Godin reminds me, some things, and some people, are worth a little inconvenience. Or even a lot.
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