Most people who have an interest in U.S. history have heard the sad story of the
Donner party expedition. In April, 1846, Jacob and George Donner led a wagon train of
farmers with 81 family members all desiring a ‘better life out west’. A route was carefully
planned. However, upon reaching Fort Bridger, Wyoming, they read a leaflet by Lansford
Hastings telling of a ‘shortcut to California’, through Utah and Nevada. Delighted to learn
of a ‘better way’ they left the proven trail and followed a trail more designed for individual
‘mountain men’, than for a wagon train of farmers. It wasn’t long before they realized that
it was far different from what had been described in the leaflet, but they persisted. They
cut their own trail through timber in the Wasach Mountains of Utah, then faced eighty
miles of salt desert. All of this delayed them and by the time they reached the Sierra
Nevada mountains they were low on provisions as they met an onslaught of fierce winter
weather involving deep snow. Some built crude cabins to try to survive, others went on.
Fifteen men started out on a one hundred mile trek to Fort Sutter to find help for the
remaining members of the party. Seven made it. However, when rescuers arrived at the
location, they could do little since they had been unable to bring in many provisions on
their backs. During the days that followed some in the original group went mad, some
resorting to murdering and even eating members of the party. Only half of the original
group survived the winter. All because they took a ‘shortcut’.
But, like them, we are people who like ‘shortcuts’. Many of us use a GPS or
Google maps to find the shortest way from one point to another. This can be very helpful
if we take normal precautions and make sure the road is good and other conditions are
favorable. However, many of us have discovered situations not unlike that described
above when we launch out on a road and soon ask ourselves, ‘What was I thinking?’
Taking shortcuts is also the way many people face life. How many decide that
‘working’…the ‘long-cut’ to a successful, prosperous life…is not for them and turn to
‘shortcuts’ like: robbing stores or banks, dealing drugs, embezzling and other such ways
to achieve ‘success and prosperity’. A survey of college students revealed that 90+
percent of students would cheat to get a job and 30 percent had cheated on exams..
In our relationships it is crucial that we remember the need to avoid taking
‘shortcuts’ in relating to and strengthening our family. In our marriages we realize that
strong, long lasting and fulfilling marriages are not achieved by taking shortcuts. Strong
marriages are built by strong verbal listening and sharing skills. Marriage counselors
hear things like: ‘He doesn’t talk to me!’ or ‘She won’t listen to me!’, indicating marriages
that are in trouble. Shortcuts must also be avoided when it comes to building strong
marriages by doing things together and by verbalizing and showing deep affection for
and appreciation of each other.
In our parenting, there is also a need for avoiding shortcuts. As in our marriages,
there must be ongoing ‘quantity time’ as well as ‘’quality time’ as we share with them,
listen to them and do things together to show our affection for and appreciation of each
one. This works so much better than ‘giving them things’ which is one of the ‘shortcuts’
that many parents use to draw attention away from the deficit in their sharing with,
listening to, and showing care for their children.
Don’t be a ‘Donner party tragedy’, do what it takes to build and live good lives.