Away from home on business, I was having dinner at a small, family owned restaurant. Sitting across from me were two couples and their grown children; obviously lifelong friends or possibly family. The men sat across from each other engaged in effortless conversation; one dressed in khaki trousers and a starched shirt, the other in shorts, teeshirt and flip flops. Their 60+ year old wives were in their own world of chit-chat while the thirty-something kids in the middle acted as food passers and conversation interlopers when the opportunity arose. The food, wine, and chatter was seamless for over two hours as I arrived after the first bottles of wine and antipasti had been served and left before their dessert and espresso arrived. Several times during the meal other friends came to the table to exchange greetings and conversation. Food, wine, old friends. Simple.
The best things in life tend to be the simplest. The sunset that stops you in your tracks. A great steak off your own grill. Soft socks and comfortable shoes. A good campfire. Breakfast at dinner time. A sincere apology or an unexpected compliment. These are all simple, uncomplicated things.
The sad side of this story is that we routinely go out of our way to make most things in life overly complicated with the hope that in doing so it will improve the result. Most often it doesn’t. Fast food chains continue to make this mistake while the undisputed champion of simple and great is found at any of California’s In-N-Out Burger joints. Not ironically, their simple menu and burgers are second in quality only to the ones grilled in your own backyard. The most memorable dinners with friends are the ones where the least amount of fuss went into preparation. The kitchen stand-around nosh, soup and salad, or pot luck affairs where conversation and relationship trump gourmet statements. Nothing special, just simple. Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef and Iron Chef are cable TV’s co-conspirators in complicating one of our simplest and most enjoyable activities.
Along this vein, outside of the conversations that are a call for help, the ones I remember longest are the ones that get past the ‘can you top this’ chit-chat and settle into what really matters – usually commonalities of life, experience, and interest where shop talk seldom enters in. They embrace a certain candor, humor, pain, and honesty and steer clear of the political correctness that panders to a sense of fake compassion.
How about relationships and our unique ability to make them complicated as well? Lack of truth, honesty and discretion, selfishness, infidelity, ego, and intolerance are the usual suspects when the simplicity of a friendship becomes damaged. All human failings. Lao Tzu said it best; “ When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you”. Or maybe it was Sir Walter Scott, …”Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”. Why is it we have a need to exaggerate and embellish on virtually everything. Is it because – the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God – is just too simple or isn’t good enough to make an ample impression anymore?
We have a penchant to even corkscrew the foundations of whatever religion we embrace. As if the spiritual world isn’t tough enough to wrap your mind around with its innate degree of complexity that it carries with it the need for faith where basic human understanding won’t go. The Christian world has found it necessary to construct over 32,000 denominational amendments to the very simple message of love, grace, salvation, and mercy. It seems we’d be less judgmental and far more accepting if we flushed our manmade religious requirements and simply stuck with the original, unadulterated message. Can I get an “amen”?
You see, after all I am the BasicMan and while simple is good it’s not necessarily a manifestation of being a simpleton. I can be amazed by the complex and complicated nature of things. I’m the first to bow at the feet of life and its incredible symmetry; how all the pieces of the body work together, how the planets align, and how salmon know when its time to head back up the exact same river from whence they came. Certainly technology has made the inner workings of our lives more complex yet much easier and enjoyable. Who would trade the home or car they now have for the one they had growing up, thanks to the technology in the walls and behind the dashboard.
So what’s the point? Why take the time to deliver 1000 words on simplicity?
The point is that as we go about our daily routine of eating, sleeping, relating, or in other words – engaging in life itself, we ought to take a second to break these elements down to basics, acknowledge their intrinsic value in their purest form, and then work back from there. Its these elements of our lives that present us with the opportunity to control or manipulate their outcome that we endeavor to make unnecessarily complicated.
After all, isn’t it the simple things in life, those elements we can’t complicate or screw up that quietly motivate us to get up everyday and do it all over again? Ever try to manipulate or complicate a sunrise? Why not enjoy them out loud; say, over dinner with old friends?
Filed under: Culture |