I begin to think we confuse simplicity with honesty, or perhaps a better word is authenticity.
What is the allure of the Amish, the plain-clothes people who shun this digital age? They seem to have a simple life, but it’s not the agrarian lifestyle that really pulls people in. What is with the sudden explosion of popularity in “country” themed weddings, by people who have no country roots at all? Maybe we know the Hollywood glamor is full of duplicity and instability, and want to comfort ourselves with the idea that the simple things stand more firmly. What about the hipster-fueled trends toward leather and canvas? A backlash against dubious descriptions of “man-made” fabrics. Even a typewriter seems more honest than a computer – physical input leading to gears and springs and ink and paper, rather than the indescribable “electronics” shoved inside a plastic casing. The so-called Paelo diet touts that it was what our ancestors ate, back when we were still an honest race.
More simple? Perhaps. More honest? The Amish are people like any other people, with all their foibles; trading one pretension for another offers no protection; and painfully deliberate stylization offers no honesty. And even thought the typewriter seems more accessible, should the Zombie Apocalypse come along, most of us are no more capable of making a typewriter than a computer. And the Paelo diet is practically cult-like in it’s insistence there is only one way to eat.
Our school classes made us watch a fairly convincing TED talk that what people really want is authenticity. You can be fake-fake (do a bad job pretending to be something you aren’t), fake-real or real-fake (Disney experience vs. Marvel Studios, I think was the examples he gave), or real-real. Really be what you really are. The talk was presented in terms of on how to monetize things, and we were greatly encouraged to offer an “experience” to get ahead in today’s market, but I think it totally missed the point — a deeper, more elegant point about human nature. We’re looking for the truth.
I’ve always been fascinated by clothing design, and how people can shape their appearance to communicate a different narrative. Later, I learned to appreciate how a different angle or a different setting on the camera could dramatically influence what was presented as happening to the viewer. Now, I find myself with an eye on both myself, and on the culture around me, with the question in my mind: Who are you really, and who do you want to think of yourself as being?
Sometimes we romanticize things. I can rattle off a good deal of professions I can’t help but imagine are more beautiful than they are: a florist or greenhouse, a sous-chef or a baker or a caterer or even the sole proprietor of a small cafe, an herbalist, an artistic painter, an aid worker, a 1950s house wife, a pioneer, a costume maker for a theater, a volunteer fire-fighter — the list goes on, and that was a quick list. I could draw up similar lists for clothes, or living arrangements, or lifestyles. Many other people could draw up many other lists, each different than the others. But our lives don’t look like our lists, so what does this mean?
Some people would say we should be more mindfully pursuing our lists. Maybe. I don’t rule that out entirely. Do we really want our lives to look like glowing screens and poor posture and instagram posts? What would we have to change if we didn’t want our lives to look like that — and what would we have to sacrifice, and is it worth it? But maybe part of the question is, what do those lists themselves tell us we are looking for?
This is quite non-scientific, as I’ve not had the opportunity to look at thousands of authors’ lists. But if I were a betting person, I would bet that most of us are probably writing up our ideas of authenticity. I pretty much drew up a short list of artistic, honest, courageous and dedicated occupations (not each occupation drew on each attribute, but taken as pieces of the whole, I think that’s what you have there). It is not that I am specifically pining, really, for any of those. It’s just that I expose that I think that those attributes are worthy things to pursue, and while I may (or may not) find those things in my daily life, I have a soft spot in my heart for those professions that I think reflect authenticity, or trueness, or rightness, or whichever word you think best captures the idea of us trying to attain a glory we’ve fallen from.
The real-real is too much to attain. We can’t really be who we want to be. And we’re all stumbling around in various states of fake-fake, fake-real, or real-fake, and putting on a pedestal those things that seem, in some way or in some part, to reflect real-real.
I can understand this back-drop to all of our striving, but I still struggle with the “so, what?” At the end of the day, we still have to live our lives. How are we supposed to do that? I don’t think the answer is “with cheap cliches,” even religious ones. I guess for the most part, I challenge myself to stop and consider why I like what I like. . .and is it really what I like, or do I just like the pretty picture it paints? What things need to change, and what things are just things to learn not to be self-conscious about, or actually shouldn’t be changed, because it is chasing after something that shouldn’t be chased?
I don’t think there is or will be a definitive answer about these things. I just think that they’re things that should be examined and considered and reflected on. It’s too easy to wake up and wonder how you got there.
I have this deep seated sense that the little things do matter and do add up, and I am concerned that not only do we not pay enough value to the little things, we’re chasing the wrong little things, and excusing it to ourselves as a “safe indulgence” under the presumption that little things don’t matter. Maybe it means we don’t get a break from chasing, and we should pay attention to what we’re chasing — especially with those poisonous lookalikes, such as simplicity and honesty, who we are and who we would like to be, what is really important and what we are just caught up in, or accomplishment and character.