President Trump is saying that he will close the border with Mexico if he doesn’t get funding for his wall. It’s not at all clear what that would accomplish. It would prevent legal entry across that border but wouldn’t do much to stop illegal entry. Whatever the current security risk is that requires enhanced security would not be appreciably reduced by closing the border. It would definitely harm the law-abiding adults and children who hope to enter the United States but would do little to stop the illegal influx of criminals and hooligans.

Perhaps most people think the politicians should sit down together and work out a deal. There is probably a reasonable compromise in there somewhere between all wall and no wall. There is likely a solution that is both practical and possible. The political bridge burning is a serious escalation of the King-of-the-Hill game the politicians are playing with the lives and futures of far too many innocent people on both sides of the border.

There is some advice about bridge burning that both President Trump and the opposition would do well to seriously take to heart.

Jonathan Kozol advised, “Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.”

In the realm of life’s little lessons, this seems axiomatic. The problem is that many of the battles that are big enough to matter aren’t small enough to win; and those that are small enough to win tend not to matter. The challenge is in knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Kozol’s advice is to fight if the outcome matters and you can win, otherwise walk away. Although this is certainly a practical approach to self-preservation, it’s also a clear cop out. There are battles that matter way too much to avoid, even though winning is far from certain.

The more important lesson may be in David Russell’s observation, “The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Life is full of conflicts and tensions, battles large and small, bridges to cross and bridges to burn. Life is a journey; and usually, when it isn’t working out, you can change direction, back up and start again, and generally change your plans. Now and then though, the bridge has burned and there is no turning back, nothing to do but live with the choices you have made.

No, there isn’t an easy way to know when to cross that bridge and when to let it burn, when to be decisive and when to equivocate, when to hold back and when to make an irreversible choice. However, there are questions that you can ask and answer before choosing.

1. “Am I burning any bridges by making this choice?”

2. “Are the bridges being burned ones over which I may want to cross again?”

3. “If I cannot cross a bridge again, what will I do instead, if the time comes when doing something else is necessary?”

4. “If I cross this bridge, how will I handle it, if things don’t work out as I hope they will?”

5. “How will I be worse off if I neither cross the bridge ahead of me nor burn the one behind me, including the lost opportunity cost?”

So, you have asked the questions. You have answered the questions. What next? Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and deal with that bridge. Cross it; burn it; take a different road; but whatever you choose, don’t forget the old Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

Here is the critical question. Is wall versus no wall an issue worth burning down the bridge of compromise along with burning down the lives of more than a million-innocent people? A year from now or five years from now, there will be new bridges to burn and the bridge burners will still be in office or not. The border will probably be more secure than it is today and there will likely be more wall and more electronics and drones. The critical issue of the day will have changed but those who are being hurt today will likely not be fully recovered and some will not have made it through the fire.

What is the kerfuffle all about? Why are the bridges being burned? Sure, it’s all about who gets to be King, at least who gets to be King this time.