From my Desk: Complexity of life

As a kid, I loved anything to do with knights. I loved the jousting, the sword fighting, the quests, dragons, rescuing damsels in distress, and the code of chivalry. My brothers and I used to pretend sticks were swords and swordfight. We even used our bikes as horses and long tree branches as jousting sticks. I would draw a picture of a castle every year for the fair (and never get a ribbon). My brother though was more into cowboys and Indians. That was ok, we each had our own thing.

I think I read Knights of the Round Table when I was around ten and I loved it. But later on in life, when I read the book a second time, I realized that the Knights I so idolized were a bunch of frat boys dressed up in armor. Under the guise of chivalry, they saved damsels in distress so that the damsel’s would give them ‘favors’ for rescuing them.  As we get older, we also realize the complexity of the history of American civilization. The relationship between immigrants and Indians was not a pretty one and its tough to label clear bad and good guys.

I think one of the reasons we are attracted to stories in books and movies is that they are a simplified version of life. Often they have clear cut good and evil characters. There is a nice narrative arc from introduction, climax, and firm resolution. Sometimes things are more complicated, but we usually can recognize these elements in the story. Things are not always so clear cut in real life. Most people are complex, a mix of good and evil inside of them. Sometimes life can be a roller coaster and situations do not always resolve themselves.

Sometimes we have temptation to simplify life. Its easy to vilify someone who thinks differently than you. Sometimes we blame situations on people when its out of their control. Sometimes we think we know a solution to a problem that may not be as simple as we would like to believe. My point is, that to be wise and understand the world, we need to be patient and embrace the messiness of life. We need to slowly investigate situations and get to know people so that we may empathize and learn to love them better. When we do this people will start to trust and open up and we can truly make a difference.

(originally published in the newspaper The Post Dispatch on 10/8/19)

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