Saturday, March 06, 2010

The difference

One of the goals of simplicity is to be able to find joy in everyday pleasures. One blog I follow recently described the personal satisfaction in using an old-fashioned pen and paper to jot down lists. I responded that to me, a fresh, sharpened wooden pencil is my personal preference. I remember how my son Matt never liked the grainy feel of wooden pencils when he was growing up and he preferred a smooth mechanical pencil. For some, I'm sure, the only simple, satisfying solution would be to forget a writing utensil and paper altogether and quickly type a list on a laptop. My blogger wisely responded:

This is a perfect example of simplicity being different for different people.

A foundational principle of Methodism is something called the quadrilateral. How can various religions and denominations hold one book - the Bible - as sacred, yet firmly believe that it says things quite the opposite of what other religions and denominations believe it says? The difference is all in interpretation. Using what is called "the primacy of Scripture," (the main leg, shall we say), the quadrilateral states there are three other legs to this guiding system of belief - that every individual has to interpret Scripture using tradition, reason, and experience. I have thought for quite a while that these three methods of interpretation can easily apply to other areas of our lives, including the ongoing question of what constitutes simplicity.

As a lover of all things involving history, I fully agree that one's tradition has to be included in this. Tradition, whether owned by cultures or families or churches or other groups, has much to teach us. There is a reason that wisdom from the past has survived generation after generation. The caveat here is that tradition is not a static thing but instead is a living thing. Traditions evolve and adapt. Some old traditions which have lost their meaning morph into newer traditions - trying to honor the past without being chained to it. I definitely think tradition has a place when one is trying to discover what it means to simplify. The wisdom of the ages can teach, instruct, and inspire, certainly. But you cannot stop there. You can't inherit and use a tradition, for instance, that you find personally abhorrent, or one that you think died long ago, or one that you feel bound to just because great-aunt Dorothy said it was so.

Enter reason. Critics say we humans seem to be able to rationalize anything, and I suppose that is true. Sometimes emotional arguments and prejudices can overpower what we know in our hearts and heads is the right thing to do in our personal situations. The beauty of applying simplicity to our lives is the fact that, unlike joining an organization with pages and pages of rules to follow, and unlike joining a specific religious group which says it doesn't matter what you do as long as you believe the appropriate things, simplicity involves simple, reasonable changes in your life. Nutrition experts say that your chosen diet cannot be so extreme that it is impossible to adhere to in the long-term, and in the same way, personal choice to simplify has to be doable and meaningful for you - not your parents or friends or co-workers - but you. Maybe you can't recycle every bottle or cardboard box - but you certainly can try to recycle as many as you can. Maybe you can't afford regular purchases of expensive grass-fed, humanely raised beef - but a carton of cage-free eggs is within your weekly budget. Maybe you watch 20 hours of TV a week and decide to cut it to 10. Maybe you decide you can live with 15 pairs of shoes instead of 50. You can't afford solar panels for your house, but you can change to some energy-efficient light bulbs. For some folks, these changes don't go far enough. But for others, these small simplifying improvements in their lives constitute progress. This we should not belittle, for progress is always relative. With frequent introspection and analysis, you reason out your own life changes, where you want to go and how to get there.

And that brings me to the last foundational leg - experience. This is why each of us has a valid comment to bring to the table of any simplicity discussion. My whole being is made up of the total of all my life experiences - which are different from those of my husband and different from even those people I grew up with. They are unique to me, and they are valid, just as yours are unique and valid. The ugly reaction of intolerance is so many times the result of reluctance to acknowledge and fully grasp this fact. My experience teaches me what works for me, what improvements need to be made for me, what changes are appropriate for me, what priorities should underlie decisions that I make for me. I can accept advice, I can listen to opinions, but in the end, these are my choices based on what I have learned in my life. This is not a selfish thing - it is the only way I can function and be true to myself - and likewise, for you, it is the only way you can function with the same integrity, and Lord knows, to be able to answer the call to simplicity with integrity intact is one more step towards contentment and happiness.

So there you have it - my take on how simplicity is different for different people. We're all in this individually, and we're simultaneously all in this together. My goal is to make my choices based on my tradition, reason, and experience, and if we all work towards the goal of doing this based on what that means for each of us, we will collectively bring a richness to the discussion that can only come from the richness of our differences. And there, my friends, will be immeasurable blessing!





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