In the past week I watched two movies that, juxtaposed to one another, have me contemplating simplicity and complexity in our modern day lives.
“Stupidity” is a documentary about the dumbing down of society. In this day and age when we have access to more information than ever before, people in mass are saying no brain power and yes to moronic behavior instead. MTV is leading the charge on the moronic movement with hits like “Jackass.” The other movie was an older film, “The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn.” Noah Dearborn (played to perfection by Sidney Poitier) is a master carpenter who lives an uncomplicated life in a small town, living on the same land where he was born and raised. Ruthless land developers come in ready to buy Noah’s land in order to build a mall. The plot isn’t original but of course the art lies in the storytelling. The developers offer Noah lots of money in exchange for his land and are befuddled by his refusals. They are bewildered by the simplicity of Noah’s life and set out to paint his indifference to modern day conveniences as a mental impairment in order to usurp his land. It goes without saying that Noah keeps his land.
The word, “simple” has become laden with negative connotations. We have developed this idea that living simple life means we are simple-minded, lack sophistication, and are not smart enough to live a more complex life. Simple is not dumb. When you get to the heart of the matter, life is simple and made up of a finite number of essential parts. We need food, sleep, labor, shelter, and the companionship of other living creatures. That’s about it. That is the sum of things which make it possible for us to exist (We do need to labor by the way. Without it our minds and bodies would atrophy). It is in our nature to live simple uncomplicated lives. I think this is why moronic humor and “stupidity” so to speak, are rampantly on the rise. Everyday, through the internet, television, at work, etc., we are inundated with information and demands on our attention. Our minds are constantly being asked to keep a million different things in the forefront. Partaking in silly and stupid humor is an escape, a respite from the daily demands put upon us. Laughing at stupid silly things is our mind and body finding a way to make it so that we do not have to think or process information for a while, saving us from information overload.
A study on multi-tasking confirmed what many of us had already instinctively concluded: multi-tasking doesn’t work. It makes it so that we do none of the tasks well and any creative energy we may have is promptly sucked right out of us since our resources are instead being use to function at a minimum level on the multiple tasks we are trying to simultaneously accomplish. If I walk into your office to discuss something with you and you are writing something on the computer, while answering phone, I don’t care what you try to tell me, I know I do not actually have your attention.
We have become a society of overbooked schedules and commitments where having an uneventful life makes you uninteresting. What in the world is going on? This is all contrary to our nature. How do we get back to the essence of a life based in quality not quantity? What if we all just figured out basic ways to simplify our lives? I know what you’re thinking right now. “E, this is all nice intellectual fodder but my life is complicated. I can’t just drop everything, move to an Amish Community and start anew. It’s not so simple to simplify my life.”
I’m not suggesting you pick up and move to a farmhouse in the country. I know I don’t want to move to a farmhouse in the country. For me rural areas are kind of like China; a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. I am in love with the convenience, energy and fast pace of a big city. And besides, we have to live the hand we’re dealt right? We don’t choose where in the world we are born, how tall we are, the color of our skin or the shape of our hands. All that is done for us and we must make the most of what we’ve been given. If you have small hands, playing bass probably isn’t your best career but luckily lots of other options exist. The same goes for simplifying your life. There are parameters within which we all have to function, some by choice and some by necessity. But by deciding what you need to prosper (not material but spiritual prosperity) and what you can have within the confines that exist in your life is how you build your own Private Idaho. The important thing to remember is that you do have choices. You ALWAYS have choices. And everything has a price. It is simply a matter of deciding what price you want to pay in exchange for the choice you make.
If you don’t like the life you are leading, change it. Period. You can come up with 501 reasons why you cannot, or obstacles to, changing your life. But the truth is, of course you can change it. You can change your life anytime you like. Sometimes when we say we cannot make a big change what we really mean is that we are not yet willing to pay the price for that new life. Or in other words, we haven’t yet concluded the price exacted for the life we are currently living is too costly. But ask you, have you truly calculated the full price you are paying for your current life?
The truth is it’s easy to ignore the real price you pay for your current life. Your current life is the devil you know, which always feels safer than the one you don’t know. But make no mistake, you are paying a price for this life or any other. The question is deciding which price you are willing to pay at what point in time. So ask you yourself, and answer honestly, what is the true price you pay for your current life? What would you need to give up, and what would you gain, from taking steps to simplify the way you are living? Until you do that, you are not yet comparing apples to apples.
A simple life does not mean you have to surrender your electricity or wash your clothes with a rock down by the river. Some of the noblest people to walk the earth (Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela) have made remarkable changes for the good of humanity by maintaining a singular focus with a simple goal while living a simple life. This approach is what makes it possible to peel away the layers of complexity on any given problem and get to the heart of the matter. No one say that you have to be the next Ghandi or Dr. King. But what is the world missing out on if you haven’t yet found your simplicity and singular focus? How much more can you give yourself and the world by finding a way to simplify your life?
I like moronic humor from time to time as much as the next person. But simple is not stupid. Complex is not sophisticated. You have the ultimate choice over how you live your life. Simplify it for the good of us all.