Simplicity is a concept in our culture that seemingly exists at the center of every popular spirituality, every consumer product, every marketing pitch (when the pitch isn’t revolution), every self-help book, and every diet. Disciples of simplicity are promised the ability to focus on truth and beauty. They will notice the small wonders in life if they only simplify their lives. Most importantly, through simplicity, the disciple will find happiness.
Simplicity is common wisdom’s answer to seemingly every stress, anxiety, and societal ill which might befall a modern American.
I am skeptical of common wisdom, especially when it is presented as counter-culture. So when poet Elisa Gabbert recently tweeted, “Complicate your life,” it drilled right into me. I am only beginning to think through this, but it seems to me that we ought to be actively seeking to complicate our lives in ways that push us to change and grow, to become more than we are, and to encounter life in ways we cannot predict.
Paradoxically, simplicity may be a byproduct of experiencing complexity. Reckoning with complexity has a way of teaching us about what really matters. But the “simple life” preached by designers, diets, hipsters, and so many pop-religiosities and spiritualities produces a lonely, myopic life that is simply boring when it isn’t base and ugly.
Too often, the common wisdom preached by our culture replaces simplicity with smallness.
Complexity rejects smallness. Many of the complexities we seek to escape by turning toward simplicity are, in fact, smallness itself: small worries about small matters that matter to a small amount of people. When I talk about complexity I mean taking on the big complexities of life. Complicating your life means embracing the world and your neighbor in suffering, joy, sorrow, and happiness. Complexity means holding tension between conflicting ideas. Standing up and facing down the injustice, unfairness, and fierceness of life will complicate your world. I promise that retreating from these challenges will make life simpler, and smaller.
Simplicity without complexity is nothing but a stupid marketing term, an advertisement for something you think your life is lacking. But simplicity cannot be gained by desire; it cannot be gained at all. Simplicity may visit you. But first you may need to complicate your life.