Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nothing is Ever Simple

Last month I posted the introduction to an 10-part series on a small book of sayings from Amy's grandparents: "Wise Words from Eleanor and Eugene Becker."  This is part 1. 

Nothing is ever simple? Does that mean everything is complex?

If Gene Becker were still alive, and if bookstores still existed, he could go to the self-help section and there would be several shelves full of books on living simply. I know this because I used to stand there confused by the abundance of simplicity advice. And if you search Amazon, no fewer than 19,000 books are suggested when entering “live simple.” At times I hear, particularly at work, the aphorism to “keep it simple, stupid.” And sometimes “stupid” is replaced with a less gentle word that begins with “s” and ends in “hithead.” Then there’s Einstein oft quoted “make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

With the abundance of advice and guidance and wisdom to be simple leads me to conclude the “simple” life is something we have to work for. Were it to come naturally there’d be no market for such books. It’s as if we have to fight against some instinct to collect and hoard, to over analyze and over commit, thus layering simple with extra burdens and expectations.

Actually, it’s not “as if,” it is.

Truly, nothing is ever simple. Unless we apply some energy to make it so, thus going against some basic human instinct, which is, thus, a complicated task. At this point we are caught in a circle.

I like Gene Becker’s approach. Not a resignation, but an acknowledgement. An acceptance. Rather than fight the reality of life and our own complicating idiosyncrasies, own it, and plan for it.

I asked my Mother-in-law, Bonnie, Gene Becker’s daughter, about this and she said:

It probably developed from his very deliberate and problem-solving thought patterns.   Because of his handyman skills, my mother was always asking "could you just make X,” or “it would be really easy to do…Y” or “it really wouldn’t be hard to fix…Z.” My dad knew better, but I cannot think of a time when “X” or “Y” or “Z” was not eventually accomplished – the man really could do almost everything!  however the process was always a great deal more complicated or had more ramifications than first thought.  

And as a software engineer by trade, I understand. We often times dismiss the connectedness of small decisions to other decisions.  How one action sets in motion other, unanticipated actions.  So in this regard, nothing is ever simple.  Bonnie went on to say that, in fact, often we do see the complications in a situation but rather than helping, it paralyzes. Where do I start? It's too big; too much. We become completely daunted by all the potential hurdles and thus procrastinate. We don't take the leap. But that was not Gene’s way. It seems he almost relished the challenge of the complex. It didn’t stop him.

It's this last point as how I want to think of Gene's wisdom that “nothing is ever simple.”  That is, don’t let it stop you. I can see in my mind's eye Eleanor asking Gene to take care of something around the house. Something she thought simple but Gene knew otherwise. With a sparkle in his eye, he turns on his heels and heads to his tool shed. "Eleanor, nothing is ever simple!" he gleefully calls over his shoulder.

Gene may have been talking about fixing things around the house, but he could have been talking about so many other things: Falling in love, being in a primary relationship, maintaining friendships over long periods of time, raising children, watching friends and lovers die, and so on. To avoid that complexity is to avoid life itself.

And that is simply unacceptable.

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