Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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The Basics of Complexity

I heard a wonderful talk by a judge at a local bar association the other day. He was speaking on helpful tips on how to effectively present one's case to a judge. One of his tips really struck me. It was something to the effect that one should not tell the Judge "this is really complex and will take me forever to explain", but instead tell the judge "this is a really simple matter, but I'll need a few moments to lay it out". This made sense to me, as I've found that a case can be laid more persuasively if one can set out the forest rather than every damn limber pine in the forest.

Ironically, later in the speech, the judge talked in very general, election-is-near terms about a personal legal matter in which he was embroiled (details not particularly relevant). At one point, he held his hands wide apart, and said "To tell the whole story would be so complicated that the documents would be THIS THICK". One of the softer-hearted personal injury lawyers in the audience gently pointed out to him the contradiction by asking "how many minutes would that take, Your Honor?", and we all had the appropriate "laugh with, not at, the judge" kind of chuckle that lawyers sometimes get to have during nice luncheons.

The judge was a nice fellow, and I don't mean to pick on him in particular. But today I'm wondering how much we all place importance upon the sheer complexity of our lives as a sort of defense mechanism against facing what is before us and how people react to us. I'm not saying, of course, that life is always simple--in commercial litigation and in my dealings with my friends and relatives, I've learned that life can be decidedly complex.

But so many times, I hear folks excuse the things they do with long explanations that, if they could only be properly understood, would cover a multitude of sins and shortcomings. I suppose one reason I hear those long explanations so many times is that I frequently listen to myself, and I am very good at feeling misunderstood as an excuse for every shortcoming I have. But how many times are we truly misunderstood, and how many times do we just imagine we wear a cloak of mystery which, in fact, was tailored by the same fellow who did that invisible "suit of new clothes" for the Emperor?

People do odd things for complex reasons. But so many times, I hear folks express the feelings that because they are complex, they should have added leeway to be discourteous to others, or to seek concessions from others to which the "rules of the game" don't entitle them. I'm not intransigent about "rules"; if someone is a weaker chess player, give him or her knight odds to even up the game. Handicap golfers, don't execute the mentally impaired, all that. But I'm sad to report that while some of us truly are complex and misunderstood, I find that in life a lot of people are not that hard to fathom. Their choices are their choices, not ineffable mysteries.

I meet so many bright people these days--I wonder if intelligence, like herons, eagles, and pelicans, made a big come-back when DDT was banned. I'll bet genius will return now that the neurotoxin/weedkiller Dursban is being phased out. But I find as the years go on, I value a sort of simple brightness. I am not much impressed anymore by that critical brightness which is mostly about knocking the brightness or talent of others. I guess there must be a reason, besides merely spending less time around university libraries, why I read far more novels but perhaps a bit less literary criticism than I might have done at 21. I suppose, indirectly, that there's a reason that I feel a mild sense of relief that I never had to write some academic work which deconstructs some novelist whose pencil I would not have the talent to sharpen. I am instead attracted to people who get in, tell their story, paint their picture, describe their image, and share who they are, without fear, without condescension, with the complexity in the work, not in the explanation.

I guess I am attracted to mail art and self-publishing and LiveJournal because I am no longer held sway by the notion that creativity is so darn complicated. I don't know how a few handful of universities and a few corporate conglomerate publishing companies got the "word out" that nobody is worth anything unless they are creative through the "right channels". I sure don't know how art galleries and art magazines did it, as I'm not sure they really have patrons per se so much as rich tourists of a sort. But I do know that creativity and self-expression is one more way in which one can convince oneself that one is so darn complicated that one can never get one's work on the page. I tend to think that the problem is instead that most of us are much more simple than we imagine, and what we get on the page pretty much is who we are.

The implications of this are dire, of course. If intelligent, grammatical people are to be assumed to express themselves as they are, then their shortcomings can't be a matter of being misunderstood. They might even be a matter of being understood. Then the rejection they feel might be "real", and not rejection through misdirection of their true, noble selves. The result could be actually having to face the world and the market and the people out there as they are, and not as they would be if only they understood us.

There is indeed a lot of misunderstanding out there--don't get me wrong. Heaven knows we couldn't have a world where we let children starve because we're so darn dense we cannot even build a global anti-hunger network if we didn't have a lot of confusion and irrational misunderstanding. I also will offer the contradictory thought that many advocates of "simple living" live lives much more complex than I ever imagine mine could be on its worst day. But sometimes, some days, I want to meet folks for who they are. I'd hate to fail to meet them, if the reason is that they are so concerned that they are just too complex to show themselves.
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