Brave complexity

Going in-depth is nice. Epecially if there are fish!

Why is it that we shy away from complexity? Understandably, clarity is nice to have. We must make assumptions, categorize things, and avoid questioning everything all the time if we want to be able to live in any functional way.

Yet it seems that in doing so, we so often miss the point entirely. Assumptions turn into world views, and the world gets separated into those who share that view and those who do not. Them and us – with them being wrong and us being right, of course!

It is easy to divide the world into right and wrong, whether we base it on systems of governance, religious beliefs or dessert choice (cheesecake is best, obviously). Suddenly, the world seems conveniently simple. We know what is good and what is not, and if only everyone saw our Capital-T-Truth everything would be fine. Right?

Well, of course not. Writing it like this makes it seem pretty silly already. And satisfying as it may be to impose our world view on other people, experience shows that it never lasts. If it does, then only through repression and immeasurable suffering.

Unfortunately, the Us-vs-Them worldview seems to be hardwired into us. The study linked here looked at what happens in our brains when our political beliefs get challenged. The short answer is: Oh boy. The long answer is written out in blood, throughout our entire collective history.

Complexity can be dirty. But it is worth it.

I think one of the main reasons why this is the case is our tendency to avoid complexity. Annoyingly, in almost every discussion on pretty much anything, all positions involved have some merit. Often this is because they are all true in their own way and just approach a given topic from different perspectives.

But even if we think someone holds a probably wrong opinion, it is usually based on some understandable circumstance. Maybe they got their opinion from a trusted person. Maybe it is based on an understandable misinterpretation. Maybe there is an ingrained bias that skews their perspective..

Whichever case it is, though, I think our only hope of overcoming the barriers posed by the differences in opinions is by being open for the complexity that underlies them. Make no mistake, doing this properly is hard, it can sometimes be incredibly frustrating – especially if we think the other person is demonstrably false.

Still, any other approach will at best prolong the confrontation – and at worst, escalate it. Leo Tolstoy famously said: “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” To understand all is to forgive all. Because it is hard to hold grudges when we understand the other’s position. Then, and only  then, do we have a chance to truly overcome the conflicts of our time, whether they are caused by dessert, questions of faith and governance, or anything else.

34 thoughts on “Brave complexity

  1. Thanks for this post. It takes courage to acknowledge complexity!

    I’ve had the privilege twice now to live in a different culture. I’m not surprised that I am sometimes baffled by different ways of thinking.

    One thing an earlier commenter said gets to something that is more surprising and yet comforting to me. I have two siblings—we grew up with the same parents, teachers, food, etc, and almost every life choice we have made has been different. We would seem to have nothing in common. But, as your reader wrote, I like to believe that we do have the same values or at least we hope for the same things.

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    1. Yes, that resonated with me, too! In fact, I am personally convinced that this is true. I guess the challenge lies in communicating ourselves well and in having the empathy to try and understand others.

      Thanks for stopping by again by the way, hope things are going OK in HK!

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  2. Great, thought-provoking article, Markus. 👍🏼 I’m in the camp of thinking complexity, and diversity, are beautiful. Keeping things simple has its place, but understanding complexity can bring wisdom and insight we missed out on before. Many things, especially topics of health (especially mental health) are complex! Yet, I gravitate toward them!
    What you said about seeing the same subject from different perspectives, is true. Often times, in marriages, you will see a couple arguing, communicating the EXACT same need, only verbalizing it differently. To me, this is a prime example of how we agree more than we might realize.
    Respect goes a long way. Even if we must agree to disagree on something – that doesn’t mean I can’t love and appreciate you as a person for what you offer as an individual.
    We live what we learn until we know better. Then we do better. (hopefully, anyhow!) Listening more than we speak not only tells us a lot about our own character, but helps us empathize with other’s and their own viewpoints.
    Excellent post! While it is okay to stand for what we truly believe in – it never hurt anyone to be more compassionate. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I pray you and Micah are well. ♥

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    1. Holly, it was a pleasure to listen to your wisdom. Thank you for your comment, and I couldn’t agree more – complexity can not only help with a greater understanding of things, it is also just a fun thing to engage with!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravissimo! We say this to our children all the time – till their eyes glaze over. That being said – I’m in the complex camp and simplify things when I have too (it helps demystify whatever it is) – this has been essential in the political, corporate and public worlds I have been in 😊

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    1. I’m sure your children will learn a lot from this! And yes, it is an admirable skill to walk the fine line between complexity and simplicity, especially in so many different contexts. Hard to overstate the value of someone who is experienced in the matter, so thank you for what you do in navigating these straits!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Firstly, cheesecake IS the best dessert! Secondly, I love that you said all may be right but looked at from different perspectives. That is literally something we have to drill into our heads each day.

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  5. This is so weird, Markus! I was going to write a blog post just like this one this morning. How synchronistic. i love when this happens. Things ARE complex and our brains want to reduce it to something simple and understandable. Thank you for writing this.

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  6. I think a lot of differences are a matter of priorities. For example at the moment, science would probably feel that we should keep isolated from each other, while at the other extreme, people are conscious of how much money is being lost. And governing is that balance of the two.
    Same with politics. Both left and right want the same thing – people’s happiness – but they have different priorities in terms of how to achieve that.
    I think each individual issue boils down to a yes/no, but the trouble is there a gazillion issues so no two people will be in complete alignment.

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    1. Yes, and I think that first step, this understanding that someone I may be arguing against actually wants the same thing as me (and vice versa) already does a lot to move away from destructive conflict and towards constructive debate. Thank you for your comment!

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  7. I think it’s difficult to embrace complex discussions because when people challenge your opinion on things, you instantly becomes a threat on their egos. Most people nowadays are very entitled to their opinions and perspective, they ignore any other possible views.

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    1. I have not tried fruit pavlova, what does it involve? Sounds interesting!

      Thank you, and those feet were the result of me failing to find hiking shoes before a three-day hike through Burma. My feet were just too large. It was during the rainy season, so there was a lot of mud, and I assume manure, too. The slippers held up perfectly, though (still wearing them today), and the gauze was a preemptive measure – I new the slippers would rub, so I wrapped up my feet to prevent blisters. Worked reasonably well, thanks to regular re-applications.

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  8. Instead of disagreeing with a person in one area, it seems there is a lot of thinking the whole person is flawed. People are complex with flawed thinking, yes – even me – and people change over time – in both positive and negative ways. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Enjoy your day!

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    1. Yes, very much. Thank you for your comment and what you point out is important: Disagreeing with someone should not be the same as attacking them as a whole person. Of course to achieve that, there is responsibility on both sides of the argument.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. Being open for the complexity that underlies the differences in worldview was the turning point that took my multiethnic marriage to a higher level.
    In a marriage like that being stuck in a particular worldview and seeing only the surface only leads to endless arguments.
    And the same criterion applies, of course and as you correctly pointed out, to all kinds of differences in worldview

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  10. Very interesting points! Usually I would say I favor simplicity whenever possible (minimalism, basic needs etc.) and think that we as humans can tend to overcomplicate things. However, I can definitely see what you mean about making our beliefs and opinions very black and white and simplified. I think we’re seeing this in a massive way in politics in the US right now. (Though I don’t often like to mention politics in public places. Especially these days! 😂) Thanks for the thought provoking post!

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    1. Definitely agree! There is certainly a sweet spot between simplicity and complexity. I guess it all comes down to how aware we are about how we choose to see things, and how ready we are to reconsider our views when our assumptions don’t work out as expected.

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