Simple Answers Have to Be Earned

Simple Answers Have to Be Earned January 15, 2016

1-4-Complex-ElegantSimpI recently came across this quote, which has been attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes (either Sr. or Jr., I’m not sure which is correct):

“For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”

Complexity-elegance-visual2I was struck by the idea of a simplicity which exists on the far side of complexity.  As I contemplated this idea, it occurred to me that simple answers have to earned — earned by working through complexity.  Simple answers which precede such wrestling with complexity are not earned, and therefore tend to me wrong — or at least misleading.

This has been true in my own life, at least.  I was raised in a religion which denied all complexities and painted the world in stark monochrome.  I believed that it was heroic to deny ambiguities, and thus I blinded myself to life’s complexities.  Life seemed much simpler at that time, but it was a simplicity that I had not earned.  And in the end, it turned out to be false — as fundamentalisms tend to.  I still long for simple answers — Do the gods exist, or don’t they? — but I find that when I grasp for them too quickly, that I am left holding the fool’s gold of a certainty cheaply bought.

Recently, an acquaintance from my wife’s (LDS) church came to visit us.  I was impressed by this man’s wisdom.  It was a wisdom of simple truths, which I suspect was earned by a life of struggle with complexities — which included being a Black man in the predominately white Mormon church with a history of racist policies and also having to struggle with serious mental disease.  This man spoke several times of “love”, how love is the answer.

I think that there are simple answers out there, answers like “love”.  Such answers still feel trite on my tongue, though.  I think I have not yet earned them.  But one day, I may win my way through the complexity to the simplicity which wise men ad women know.

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