What Does It Mean To Be A People of Simplicity?
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.
It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move
in the opposite direction. — E. F. Schumacher
Courage. It’s not your typical place to begin. But maybe that’s good. It reminds us of what we already know but too often forget: there is nothing simple about simplicity.
Indeed to talk of simplicity requiring courage reminds us that the work of this month is not just about reduction but confrontation. Yes, editing our To Do Lists and eliminating clutter from our lives is part of it, but the deeper challenge involves rejecting our culture’s values and attributions of worth. To be a people of simplicity is not just about saying yes to sunsets, walks in the woods and more dinners with those we love. It’s also about saying no to status and society’s affirmation. And that most certainly requires bravery.
And not just bravery, but honesty too. It’s not just society that celebrates status, stuff and overscheduled lives; we cling to them as well. The busyness of our lives is not just overwhelming; it’s also seductive. Overscheduled lives don’t just tip us over; they tempt us. They promise us power, affirmation and proof that we are of more worth than the one standing next to us. There is a reason we go on and on about how busy we are. We aren’t just complaining; we’re bragging. To be busy is to have made it. To be over-committed is to be wanted and needed. No wonder we have such a hard time giving it all up.
And why is this frame important? Why dwell on how addictive and seductive this crazy game of chaotic living is? Well, because it reminds us that simplicity is not a single-player game. We forget this, you know. We make the work of simplifying our lives all about our own will-power. We treat our cluttered houses and full calendars like our problem and challenge alone. And then we beat ourselves up for being as materialist and status-driven as everyone else.
But the fact is no one stands outside of the status quo by themselves. No one can reject and confront a community of broken values without the promise and support of an alternative community that celebrates a different equation of “worthy living.” That courage and genius of which Schumacher speaks: it’s just not something any of us can pull off on our own.
That may be the most important and kindest message of this month. May we help each other remember it.