Monday, December 15, 2008

Simplicity on the far side of Complexity

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

This quote begins a chapter entitled "On Simplicity and Complexity" in one of my favorite books of all time, entitled "The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace" (John Paul Lederach). The thesis of the chapter is that you have to "complexify before you simplify" (33) because the simplicity that comes before knowing all of the varying in sundry complicating factors in a situation is really worthless, inane and naive. But, often times, the true answer is also remarkably simple: you just have to be on the far side of complexity in order to see it clearly.

- "I love you" said in passing is a joke or a pick-up line. Said sincerely, after two hours of fighting through your issues, both still steaming from anger-felt, it is both moving and profound.

- "Money doesn't matter" said when living with excess money is naive. After years of making ends meet penny by penny, putting children through college, and working three jobs, to be able to say that money does not matter is full of wisdom.

- Peace between nations might be made through a simple conversation between two mundane individuals. But to attempt to arrange that conversation prior to understanding all the actors on the stage would be ludicrous.

- "Don't worry; God is in control" said when your life is spiraling out of control can feel tactless and trite. Is it true? Yes. But does it have deep meaning until you realize it yourself, on the far of side of complexity? No.

My simplicity on the near side of complexity: "Just be yourself! People should like you."
The complexity: they don't always and I don't always.
The simplicity on the far side of complexity: "It's not about me and life works better when I stop focusing on me and how I'm doing, how I'm performing, and start focusing on Jesus, and caring for others."

It's remarkably simple. But it takes wrestling through (and failing in) all of the other options in order to see that simplicity. You could have told me that 3 months ago, and I would have completely agreed that you were correct. But it would not have resonated in the same way that it does now, after 3 months of self-serving, self-examining arrogance, doubt, pride and self-pity.

Here's my point: the answer to our dilemmas often times is ridiculously simple. But in order to see and understand the simple answer, often times, we must first walk through the complexity.

Where we often mess up? We want to give a simple answer when we haven't engaged the issues. Dealing with grief and loss is one of these areas. Dealing with sin is another. Dealing with questions or doubts is another.

The answer is always simple. But in order to get there, we sometimes (most of the time) have to get messy first. The take home? Don't be afraid to engage the complexity. But at the same time, don't miss the forest for the trees.

There is beauty in the simplicity on the far side of complexity.

1 comment:

Paul Coughlin said...

That was great. Thanks.

I was thinking - is 'awareness' the differentiating factor - between naive simplicity and simplicity on the other side of complexity..

If so, then it must be a constant process. What we perceive as the new simplicity of the far side of complexity, becomes the naive simplicity again as out awareness increases and more complexity emerges..

Maybe it's a process of integration - our head takes it apart through examination and close inspection - conscious mind functions, our hearts put it back together again - not conscious mind functions, and the resultant integration is the experience of simplicity/wholeness..

love and light..