Simplicity Double-Speak

When big media attempts to horn in on the simplicity movement, author and voluntary simplicity spokeperson Vicki Robin draws a line in the sand.
aaron burden simplicity.jpg

Image by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

Watch out. Marketing double-speak is hitting new lows. Time Inc., recognizing a trend, has launched a new magazine for the harried called RealSimple. With over half the magazine devoted to ads, the real message is obvious: the perennial insight of “less is more” has been reworked into “Do less. Have More.” The true grit of real simplicity is replaced with yet another engraved invitation to self-absorption.

What's the harm? “Simplicity” is just a word, and words belong to everyone. If someone wants to call a soap “joy,” a tampon “freedom,” or underwear “love,” why do I find myself bristling when a magazine wants to commandeer “simplicity” and “real” to sell Gap clothes and Cadillacs?

Shouldn't I declare victory when the kind of shedding of excess I've been promoting for two decades becomes mainstream? Why do I cringe when Madison Avenue starts selling “simplicity”?

It's because words mean something. They are alive, almost as alive as flowers and forests and finches. They make up the DNA of our culture. Marketers muck with the genetic material of our souls when they manipulate our emotions by appropriating the language we use daily to express our highest aspirations and deepest desires.

So, sorry folks. I'm drawing the line. I'm declaring a quixotic war on the language looters. I'm standing tall in those canyons of skyscrapers where the best minds of our generation are writing ad copy, and I'm yodeling a big, “Yoo hoo! You can't have ‘simplicity' to sell your stuff!”

Simplicity isn't something you buy. You create it by chipping away the unreal, the useless, and the meaningless until, like Michaelangelo's David, you are left with a life that is breathtakingly beautiful. Simplicity is about loving something more than you love “more.” It isn't yours by buying a car or a laptop computer or a cigar or a spa-vacation.

In fact, simplicity is far more challenging and rewarding than anything commerce – “e” or otherwise – can offer. It's about “living simply that others may simply live.” It's not about having more and doing less. Just the opposite. It's about “having less and being more” – more quiet, more honest, more compassionate, more real.

Oh dear. Real. There's another word headed for oblivion as marketers co-opt it to sell magazines and, you guessed it, cars. Real isn't something you buy. It's, well, real. It's like the breath that sustains you. The blood in your veins. The soul that remains once everything else is shed.

And yes, in case you were wondering, RealSimple is also dispensing soul in easy-to-swallow insight bites.

Hello! No one can sell you your soul. It's yours already. Sure, soul work can go more smoothly in solitude, in nature, or in the company of other seekers and inspiring teachers. Access to these, in today's world, might mean spending a bit of money.

But souls light up just as often in bad times. Achieving equanimity amidst gridlock, crisis, and loss often expands the soul in ways that don't disappear the Monday morning after that high-buck vision quest.

For peace of mind, watch your breath go in and out. Watch your desires rise and fall. And watch your pennies to see if spending them is getting you any closer to an authentic life.

So watch out for the sideshow barkers dressed up like Martha Stewart who promise to simplify your life for a pretty penny. It's like thinking that a cell phone will simplify your life and then finding that everyone can find you 24/7.

Simplicity is slow. It's a bit shy, coming out only in moments of silence, solitude, and sanity. You can't get it at the mall. You won't find it on the web. And it sure won't flutter out of an advertising-loaded magazine like a bounce-back post card for a free trial of the latest hair rinse.

So what's my prescription for simplicity? Ask yourself what really matters to you and then coil your life around it and don't let go. Tell your children Seuss-like tales of the loony language looters and teach them the difference between needs, wants, and advertising-induced desires.

“Real” and “simple” cost nothing more than attention to our beautiful world. Can you “buy” that?


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