Linda Downing

Simplifying is complicated

The aging grandfather, Don Pedro, in the movie "A Walk in the Clouds," is angry about what he is being commanded to give up for his health - liquor, salt, cigars. "What do the doctors know about the needs of a man's soul?" he says. What does anyone know? To find out we must reduce life to its essence, but that is not easy. Simplifying is complicated. Perhaps we need to concentrate less on what we give up and more on what we gain. That puzzles us as much as it did in the 1st century when Jesus said: "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33). As a nation we have overcomplicated, over-described, and overworked almost every simple concept. National budget? Make line-by-line items so extensive Congress easily caters to special interests and gives up analyzing. Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation? Out their secrets. Internal Revenue Service? Overtax, under-tax, make codes indecipherable, bog citizens down with paperwork, and then use it to terrorize them. Terrorism? Spy on those citizens. Health Care legislation? Make it unreadable, and then use it to shut down the government. It is not clear what that even means. One thing may be getting clearer: When citizens are called upon to vote again, we won't need to do as much research. We can go down the list and vote them all out; we cannot do worse.
We are inept at finding middle ground. We tend to go all or nothing. Let's take that salt thing. Without enough salt, we die. Knowing its importance, the ancients made salt trade agreements. We moderns followed medical guidelines to the extreme, taking away delight from our taste buds, and likely harming our health. In May a new report said there is "no good evidence that eating very low levels.offers benefits." Zeal to simplify is often misunderstood. In June, Elaine Silvestrini wrote an article for The Tampa Tribune titled "Can You Refuse to Give SSN?" It was an eye opener, letting us know the difference between what is legally required and what has become commonplace. The 1935 creation "was never intended to be an all-purpose identification number." Well, okay; knowledge is power but try telling that to the many entities that ask for social security numbers. Be prepared to be looked upon as one with criminal intent when pointing out they don't need it, and we citizens have rights to protect our personal identities. That is, if we can find them - our identities. Howard Mansfield, writing for The Los Angeles Times, says 23 percent of us admit to paying bills late because we can't find them beneath the clutter. Some 25 percent can't park their cars in garages stacked floor to ceiling with stuff, most of which they haven't seen for years. Simplifying starts with de-cluttering, but Mansfield hit the real point: "Our lives are finite. That's the lesson we never want to hear." The nation reflects its individual citizens. If each cannot simplify his own place, how can the whole clean up the mess? If each cannot lose his own life (mess), how can we gain or regain our national existence? Don Pedro was right about one thing: It is vital to extricate the soul's needs from all else. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at