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Give me the simple life

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
No doubt every one of us would have a prescription for the simple life. Characteristically the simple life is associated with unadorned living – stable but unglamorous vocation, a practical house and car to match, void of pressing engagements and certainly operating out of the public eye. This description however brings life dangerously close to being insipid. I accept that hectic living is not in the arena of the simple life but I’m less certain that living the simple life implies an absence of depth. There are for example some notoriously simple expressions which aren’t in the least lacking in elemental value.  To take an extraordinary example, a diamond is simple but I doubt that it would suit what is normally comprehended by the simple life.

Yet this line of discussion is distracting and leads nowhere. The issue is not what one does or what one has; nor certainly is it about exclusive utilitarianism. Rather it is a question whether the performance of one’s day-to-day agenda is simple or complicated – effortless or confusing.  We all know that even an unelaborated undertaking can become labyrinth. The preference (if any) for simplicity doesn’t entail avoidance of complication per se as though there were two possible lines of communication.  Remember, anything can lead to complication.  What matters is our ability to approach the events of the day assisted by simple direction.

Give me the simple life
1945 song written by Rube Bloom (music) and Harry Ruby (lyrics). It was introduced in the 1946 film Wake Up and Dream.

I don’t believe in frettin’ and grievin’;
Why mess around with strife?
I never was cut out to step and strut out.
Give me the simple life.
Some find it pleasant dining on pheasant.
Those things roll off my knife;
Just serve me tomatoes; and mashed potatoes;
Give me the simple life.

All considered the simple life is little more than a matter of choice. Though I would prefer to claim the wisdom for thinking so, I suspect it is an accident of aging that the simple life is the most desirable posture for living. Eventually the busy-ness of life wears us down. The obligation to “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot) hardly captures the simple life. We lean instead to letting our hair down and dressing in comfortable togs:

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

The handy thing about importing the dynamic of simplicity into one’s life is that it legitimizes one’s thoroughly pardonable preferences and at the same time diminishes the relevance of anything else. While it may be perceived as an unbridled licence for unfortunate behaviour, one has to question to value of living otherwise. I mean, really, would we prefer to see people putting on airs, saying things they don’t really mean, doing things they don’t want to do, acting as though they’re happy when they’re not?  I think not! The simple life handily sidelines all that flapdoodle and empowers what is by comparison authentic and heartfelt.  How often we’ve unnecessarily muddled our lives by acting contrary to our native instincts!

Yet it is no mean task to live the simple life.  It isn’t for example just a matter of venting or acting with remorseless lack of forethought.  Quite the contrary.  The simple life exacts considerable standards, contemplation and dedication, akin to the perpetual battle of rectitude and mischief which constantly alternates in our subconscious mind. Though the path to the simple life is readily discernible it always involves a choice; and unquestionably the product of each decision renders a different result.

There are some for whom the portrait “refreshingly candid” is apt. In the minds of certain people, that characteristic is the social equivalent of a licence to kill.  We mustn’t confound the simple life with unrestrained conduct. Indeed the truly simple life is more famous for its wholesale avoidance of controversy. Even without considering the pragmatic value of doing so, it stands to reason that wrangling is by definition unsettling and disconcerting. The simple life is a way of living not a simplification of life itself. There is nothing simple about life but there can be a simple way of living it. And as a product of that erudition (and possibly contemporaneous aging) we are afforded the chance to reap the advantages of life’s treasures. I have yet to be persuaded that complication is a good thing. Give me the simple life!




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