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“Life is simple but we complicate it.” It backs up your feeds. You hear it said often. It may even be your desktop marquee. After all, the wise Confucius once said something similar. It must be true, always and without question!

Proverbs and aphorisms are a strange thing. We give our nod of approval to one and moments later contradict the sentiment via another. “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, “Two heads are better than one”; “Clarity is the sun in a dark night”, “Epiphany emerges from a melting pot of obscurity”. Ok, I made up the latter pair but you get my drift. Proverbs are common-sense insights meant to provoke thought, not to crystallize or fix it. They provide as a useful directive in one context but stifle when applied in another context.

That’s the problem with the “life is simple” saying. It often hardens into a dogma in the minds of many. To contradict it is symptomatic of its truth. “You only disagree because you like to complicate things!” No, I disagree because it’s also true to say that life is complicated, really. In fact, I’m willing to wager that the statement “life is simple” is a response to a complicated situation. It arises because life is uncontainable and multifarious in the face of which we sometimes need to affirm that life is simple. A psychologist might call it a coping strategy, a mantra to help us through something difficult, dare I say complicated.

I agree that we somenatural-weaved-leaf-fibers-headertimes complicate things unnecessarily. However, it boots nothing to argue simplistically about an otherwise true sentiment. The idea of simplicity is meaningful to me only when seen in the context of complexity, not vice versa. Enlightenment comes after the experience of suffering. Salvation comes after the experience of one’s shortcomings. Plenitude or the state of completeness—simplicity, if you will—is inclusive. It interlaces all the elements of which it is composed as well as those which it is thought to exclude. Complexity is like that, without the evaluative trappings in my soteriological examples. You can’t have simplicity without it. Life is simple and complicated. It’s simply complicated.