Why Can't a Human Be More Like a Machine?

I finally got a new car last week, and I got one that had a navigation system. It seemed like a good , maybe necessary, idea -- I am, to put it politely, "directionally challenged."

And this navigation system is great. I talk to it ("find ATM") and it talks to me ("Would you like directions?"), I respond "Yes," and it gives them to me, telling me when to turn, left or right, giving me plenty of warning ahead of time ("In a quarter of a mile, you will turn left,", "Take your next left.")

But here's the interesting part. If I don't do what it says (either I messed up, or I think I know a better route), it doesn't respond to me with irritation. It doesn't say "why didn't you listen to me?" It keeps its voice calm, and as soon as it can, starts giving helpful directions again. If it doesn't know what I did at all, it will ask if I would like to change the route. It's patient.

How often does that happen with a driver and a human naviagator in a car? Wouldn't it be nice if it did? Think of the last time you missed the turn on the Eisenhower or the Beltway or I-95. What did your human navigator say to you?

Mmm. Here's a new idea: In addition to saying that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, we might say that we need to become more like navigation systems.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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