Great and spacious buildings

I work in a large office building with one dedicated “express elevator” that goes straight to the top floor. Outside this express elevator and next to the elevator call button, a red sign on the wall says, “Express Elevator: Stops at Lobby and 21 ONLY”.

But there are no signs on the inside of the elevator. And after you get into the elevator, you can push the buttons all you want to, but only “21” and “1” light up. Once in the express elevator and the elevator doors close, you’re going up to “21” or down to “1”. There is nothing you can do about it.

Usually, people are in a big hurry to get to an appointment, and so they rush into the express elevator, and never even notice the “Express Elevator: Stops at Lobby and 21 ONLY” sign. These people push the elevator buttons repeatedly, and look around frantically for someone to explain to them why the buttons aren’t lighting up, and why the elevator is showing no signs of stopping on their floor. Then someone who knows this is an express elevator intervenes and says to them, “this is an express elevator. It stops at 21 only”.

The reactions to this revelation range from humor (“Oh, how silly! I’m stuck in the elevator going to the wrong floor!”), to annoyance (“Great, now I’m going to be late for my meeting”), to utter confusion (blank stare). Sometimes when I’m in the express elevator alone with people trapped on their way to the wrong floor, they get upset and hold me accountable for their predicament. A few people have even rudely insinuated that I’m not so special that I should get my very OWN elevator. They think I’ve intentionally trapped them in the elevator all the way up to the 21st floor – and that I know the secret to letting them off on their floor, but I choose not to share it with them.

Of course, there are many lessons to learn about life from the story of the express elevator (people in Boston are rude and obnoxious?! (joke)). Some signs are hard to see. You rush into things that look good (an open elevator door!), but then quickly discover that you are stuck going somewhere you don’t want to go. One reason we are taught that we should follow our Church leaders is that they are able to see and read the signs more clearly than we can, precisely because some of the signs may not seem to apply to us, or seem silly, or exclusive.

On another level, one reason it’s sometimes difficult to follow Church leaders is that the counsel they give is not as nearly clear as reading the signs so as to not get stuck in the wrong elevator. And some of these questions affect us deeply: Whom should I marry? Which career should I choose? Where shall I live? How many children should we have? Are frozen embryos real human beings we shouldn’t exploit for our own purposes? Unlike getting into the express elevator and pushing the right buttons, even if we try our very best to follow the counsel of our leaders, and with pure intentions set a goal to get to the 17th floor, we may actually wind up on the 7th floor, wandering around looking for the nearest exit to the stairwell.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that life would be so much easier if we were able to find the right elevator, push the right button, and get to where we wanted to go. But I guess then we wouldn’t have much to blog about.

8 thoughts on “Great and spacious buildings

  1. Awesome post Elisabeth! I can very much identify with such mistakes as taking the wrong elevator which are made in haste. It seems to me that whenever I make a mistake it is because of a hasty decision.

  2. In my experience, if we ponder and pray (and sometimes fast) about the most important decisions, and listen carefully to what the prophets and apostles say, we get a huge amount of guidance. The guidance doesn’t help in all decisions, but certainly in the big ones. I’d like to believe that if I really listen to the Spirit and what our Church leaders say I would never get stuck on the wrong elevator, and even if I did, it would be for my benefit to “give me experience.”

  3. 21 floors is considered a “great and spacious” building in Boston?

  4. I agree with Aaron that haste is usually a major cause of bad decisions in my life. But I also think we end up getting in trouble when we deliberate ad infinitum about a particular question or problem. Sometimes the Lord isn’t going to give you answer, no matter how long you think and how hard you pray, because he wants us to figure things out on our own. I seem to remember Pres. Hinckley saying something like “get on your knees and pray, then get up and get to work.” I belive many times this will mean, of necessity, getting to work before the Lord actually answers us–if he does at all.

    I think that most decisions in life are the kind for which we can make “course corrections” when, over time, it appears that our decision might not be a good one, or may need a minor “tweek”. In fact, I think that sometimes it’s necessary to start on some (any) path just to get a better sense of what’s good/bad in a particular situation.

    For those decisions that truly are “express” to some desination with no way out, I’d say take your time and beware!

  5. Aaron-

    Thanks. Yes, decisions made in haste are usually the ones that cause the most problems. Sometimes a hasty decision can turn out for the best, though – and waste endless hours agonizing and deliberating about what we should do. It would be nice to know the upper limit of when enough mulling is enough.

    Geoff –

    I agree that we have the tools at our fingertips to make perfect decisions. But I guess human judgment can never be perfect. Sometimes I see decision making as like predicting the weather – we know all the variables to predict the weather four or five days in advance, but we can’t predict with much certainty whether it will be sunny on July 4th (by the way, my sister in Utah just called me to say it’s snowing!).


    I liked your comment about how some decisions may be “express” decisions – i.e., that there are some decisions that inevitably lead you to destinations with no way out. I think these destinations are relatively few, though.

    Steve #2 – I used to work on the 55th floor of the John Hancock tower. Those express elevators made my ears pop, so you’re right – the 21st floor is nothin’.

  6. “I think these destinations are relatively few, though.”

    That depends on the circumstances. As a law clerk to an appellate judge, the number of split-second gut calls I’ve had to make in the last year is zero. Were I an infantry Captain in Mosul, I’d be making more.

  7. Sounds like your elevator has a UI problem. I wish people designing public spaces would all have to take a usability class.

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