Life is very complicated and is bound to become more so as time goes by. The only constant in our lives seems to be change! As our banks repeatedly change ownership and even our grocery stores switch their products around, we want to yell "stop."
We can only tolerate so much change in short periods of time, and as we get a bit older, it becomes even less tolerable. One might ask if the customer is really being well served by constant change, or rather, is it the corporate "bottom line" that is being served? Is "bigger" and "newer" always better?
Many recent technological developments, our economy, politics and human relations all contribute to our complicated lives. Yet, it is human nature to try to simplify things. We like to be able to get our arms around issues and problems. Perhaps this somehow makes us feel more comfortable and in control.
I suggest that it is our discomfort with our complicated lives that can anger us and drive us to seek simple solutions. I submit that a perfect example of our penchant for simplicity occurs in the field of politics. We like to label people and groups (especially those of different persuasions from us) so that we can get a handle on them and feel in control and perhaps superior to them.
Letters to the editor in this paper (and others) often reveal anger and the free-wheeling use of labels, such as "conservative" and "liberal" to speak of people or groups in a derogatory way. The term "conservative" is sloganized to connote meanness and narrowness; whereas a true conservative, in my understanding, is one who honestly believes in self-reliance (to the extent possible) and in the full development of each person's potential.
Likewise, the term "liberal" is today made into a dirty word, with disregard for the original meaning: "open minded and compassionate, with personal freedom for the individual" (Websters). As we freely label people and groups, we forget that a simplistic label such as "hard-hearted conservative" or "bleeding heart liberal" really captures very little about the total reality of that person (group).
Many of us hold a variety of views on important issues, ranging widely along the conservative to liberal spectrum. The more thoughtful we are about these issues/problems, the more doubts we may have about them. Conversely, the less thoughtful we are the more likely it is that we will latch into a simple solution. As the American editor, H.L. Mencken, said:
"For every complex problem there is a simple solution and it's usually wrong."
It is tempting to try to simplify things. Whether from habit, laziness or fear, we would like our lives to be manageable and secure. Inevitable complications make us cross, or at least impatient to find resolution. Educating ourselves on all sides of an issue can be a slow and painstaking process. However, if we do so, we'll be stronger citizens, less vulnerable to the frequent bias in media talk shows and news articles that often pepper us with slogans and simple solutions.
It will be one of our challenges in future years to forego the "shoot from the hip" remedy of labeling people and groups. It will also be our challenge to explore more deeply the complex issues of our time with the patience and thoughtfulness they deserve. With the preciousness of life and human interaction, and the seriousness of issues facing the human family, can we afford to do anything less?
Susan Paslov is a retired attorney who teaches English as a Second Language. She is married with three children and one grandchild.