Bloomberg.com Post: “Resist Simplicity”

In his post titled “To the Class of 2013: Resist Simplicity” (May 9, 2013), Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter knows how to grab my attention with a headline. But anyone who reads the headline and then skips the article may be succumbing to the very thing Professor Carter intends to warn us about: lazily deferring to slogans, sound-bites, and simple solutions in order to avoid thoughtful evaluation of issues which are often anything BUT simple. He makes the point that most of the problems of today are far too complex to be shrugged off with an opinion gleaned from bumper stickers – no matter how clever. And I think we can all agree that there is often a temptation to do just that amidst the deluge of information we are continuously bombarded with from the external world these days.

He suggests that the “simple” thing to do is to follow the herd.

Because of that, Professor Carter believes that the great challenge facing the college-age generation today is to “regain the high ground my generation once championed and has long forgotten: the freedom to think for yourselves.”

And I wholeheartedly agree. What I don’t agree with is his cavalier use of the term “simplicity.”

Those who equate simplicity with simple living (as I do) might assume from his post that the movement encourages listless apathy or blind acceptance or gullible naiveté. It does not. Simplicity, in fact, requires just the opposite.

My advice to Professor Carter would be to learn the difference between simple and easy – which often mean two completely different things. Sit down with an opponent to play Othello, dominoes, Scrabble, or chess. Just as the tag line for Othello reads, these games take “a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.” If you don’t know how the game is played, it will be simple enough to learn. But if you think the game will be easy, you are likely to be unpleasantly surprised. (And beaten.)

I would encourage today’s graduates to embrace the simplicity of the simple living movement – to eschew the accumulation of superfluous stuff, the wasting of valuable time, the squandering of precious energy, and the over-consumption of natural resources. Living a life of simplicity requires a clarifying of purpose, a sharpening of focus, and the elimination of every distraction between here and the goal. No greed, no waste, and no excess baggage.

Often, this is anything but “easy.”

But by traveling lighter and living more simply, people inevitably find they have more time for just what Professor Carter would like to see more of: introspection, reasoning, analysis, and independent thinking. So when he says, “Simplicity is the enemy of serious thought,” I’m afraid I really must beg to differ. I would even go so far as to suggest that he more aptly re-title his article “Resist the Over-Simplification of Complex Issues” or even “Avoid the Easy Way Out.” But more importantly, I sincerely hope he will reevaluate his word choice – and abandon his advice to graduates to resist “simplicity” lest they misinterpret the message.

Because – as I see it – simplicity and innovative thinking are BOTH needed if there is to be any hope at all for this world.

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