“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!” Oscar Wilde
I love ideas. One of my top strengths in the Strengths Finder Inventory is called Ideation. They define ideation like this… “People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.”
This is so true! Disparate ideas are like this beautiful chorus of voices singing in surround sound in my mind. This is why I am always reading five books at once. There is a synergy that occurs. It is like a conversation or debate, instead of a lecture. The voices push and pull against one another. And in the midst of all this interaction, truth gets bigger.
What might appear a distracting cacophony of dissonance is instead an elegant complexity of connections. It is beautiful and sophisticated. And I love it.
When I teach, my temptation is always to squeeze in too much. My talks and lessons have a tendency to grow longer and longer, as I seek to walk people through not only my ideas, but my process. To let them in on the conversation. To show them where I began, what I’ve discovered along the way. And if it all goes as planned, they too will discover it as we go.
But not everyone shares my sentiment about complexity. It feels unsettling to them. It is so unpredictable. The slope feels slippery. It is easier to remain in the safety of the black and white. Every once in a while, I get told to dumb it down.
But I just can’t. It would feel dishonest. To boil things down to a fill in the blanks outline feels disrespectful to the truth. To oversimplify ideas feels like an offense to authenticity itself.
But, if I’m honest, there is also a hidden convenience to remaining in the complexity. There is a safety to it, yes, but also, a bit of intellectual laziness. Because the really good stuff lies beyond the complexity. It happens when we find the elegant simplicity on the other side of complexity.
My friend John Losey has done some really good thinking in this area of complexity and I’ve found it not only inspiring, but convicting. John’s ideas challenge me to go further. To push through complexity to the beautifully simple truth on the other side.
Maybe this is why I like C.S. Lewis so much. Somehow he takes deep theology and spiritual formation and describes them in terms just about anyone can get their mind around, like a trip to the dentist or driving an automobile. His ideas are both brilliant and accessible to everyone. It demonstrates such a unique intelligence.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “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.”
And I’ve been taking this to heart. I’ve been pushing myself to get to the simplicity on the far side. To see the complexity as a beautiful midpoint on the journey. And to not move on to the next thing until I’ve finished naming what is right before me.
And it is working. Not just for others comprehension, but for my own. There is an added joy in pressing all the way to the other side. It requires tenacity and more will power than I’d prefer to give, but the fruit is worth it.
Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” So I’m challenging to myself to keep going in my pursuit of ideas. To speak as simply as possible, and no simpler. To honor both the depth of the complexity and the elegance of the simplicity. To enjoy the fullness of the seemingly disparate connections, but to keep at it until I can articulate it clearly to my kids. Or to at least get close.