Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?Avril Lavigne
I can’t hide from Avril, she’s got me pegged.
Everyone has an inner Complicator — that part of us that takes the most simple idea, project, or task and makes it more complex, until it becomes overwhelming and confusing and so much bigger than it needed to be.
Our Complicator arises for many reasons. A major factor in its persistence is that it is reinforced by cultural conditioning that rewards the thinking mind and “brain intelligence” over body intelligence, emotional intelligence, and intuition.
This cultural conditioning is so pervasive that we hardly notice it. Consider the four children we read about at the Passover Seder: the Wise one, the Wicked one, the Simple one, and the One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask.
The first child, who asks a detailed question about the laws and decrees relating to the holiday, is labeled as the “Wise” child.
This seems to imply that the other three children are not wise. It also reinforces a particular ideal of wisdom, or intelligence: the child who asks the intricate questions, the type that “sound smart.”
Wisdom Lies in Simplicity
Knowledge lies in piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.Martin H. Fischer
We often assume that as we mature the questions we ask and the wisdom we seek must get more complicated — it’s considered a sign of our intelligence to ask more complex questions.
And, yet, have you ever noticed that the most simple questions are often the most profound?
Eternal wisdom is found in simplicity: the question that stops you in your tracks, or the principles and precepts that resonate across cultures, languages, and the long arc of time.
The simplicity is what aids the resonance of these precepts, it’s in part what defines them as wisdom.
When our minds get lost in the details about the rules or the “right way” to do something, it’s the simplicity of eternal wisdom that cuts through the noise.
Simple Wisdom is Overlooked
Our culture often overlooks the wisdom in simplicity.
Case in point: The Haggadah I use offers robust commentary on the section of the four children, with a section devoted to each child except the Simple one.
We grow up learning that asking the right questions and giving the complicated answers is how to score points on tests, get into good schools, and move ahead in our career.
What gets rewarded gets reinforced.
That’s a great example of simple wisdom for you.
The problem with this cycle is that complexity comes at a steep price: it adds to our cognitive load and drains our energy, time, and, eventually, our enthusiasm for our work.
One Simple Question to Cut Through Complicated
The Simple child looks at the apparent complexity of the rituals at the Passover Seder and asks, What is this?, as in: What are you actually trying to accomplish here? Remember why you’re doing this. Focus on what you want.
When I’m caught in a web of complexity or spinning with to-dos, I channel the Simple child to return to the fundamentals, with one simple question:
What do I really want to have happen here?
When we succeed at it, simplifying can help us free up time and energy. That alone makes it worth the effort, at least for me.
What’s one area in your life that you’d like to simplify? Share in the comments.