The lesson of simplicity was taught to me by two different people or movements: i) people of a certain element of Christianity and ii) the CEO and my boss at Arkema (the CEO who preceded me there). It’s a hard lesson to learn though.
On the face of it, there is no inherent validity to the principle; there is no reason to think simplicity is preferable to complexity. Yet I believe it is preferable. I’m come to believe it’s a superb guiding principle for one’s life.
The motivations of the Christians and my boss were quite no different no doubt, the latter focusing primarily on business success while the former’s interests were much more personal. I think both were right, for different reasons.
That’s not to suggest complexity never yields substantial benefits. All one has to do is look at the complex financial instruments created by Wall Street and the huge sums of profits generated by these instruments to know that complexity pays. Well, at least for some people or organizations. Unfortunately, there is usually a loser on the other side of those transactions and trades.
In any case, I’ve discovered that, for me, simplicity pays: it yields freedom, less stress and a higher likelihood of achieving one’s objectives and experiencing the deeper, more significant aspects of human life.
The Christian pietists referred to as Shakers would sing a song entitled “Simple Gifts.” According to the lyrics written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848, “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.” Here is a rendition given to us by two of my favorite artists.
The song represents the Shakers eternal gift to humanity. I doubt it will ever die. And I suspect it’s very survival attests to the truth that hides in plain view in its lyrics.
Simplicity allows us to see and experience the more important things in life. At least that’s been my experience. Complexity, so often experienced as clutter and noise, misleads and bears false promises. And obscures. And, too often, binds.
My life is uncluttered and simple compared to some. Yet it is still not simple enough. I strive to simplify even more. I strive to be free and to live in communion with nature and all its inhabitants, in peace and in relationship.
That’s a lot to expect. And, indeed, I suspect it will forever remain beyond my grasp. Fully, that is. But partially isn’t bad. It’s better than the alternative, at least for me.
Simplicity helps. Simplicity carries with it the gift of freedom. And meaning.
Simplicity carries grace on its back. And peace in its hands.
With simplicity, there is room for love. And compassion. And joy.
Were the Shakers right? For a whole host of reasons, most of which I didn’t even mention here, I believe they were. But you’ll have to decide for yourself, Vera.