Every now and then when pizza is being served at a party or other social function, I hear some variation of the phrase, “Well, there are vegetables on this slice, so it’s healthy!” Never mind that it’s dripping with cheese and grease and overloaded with pepperoni and sausage: the vegetables cancel all that out! While this utterance is certainly made in jest (at least, I truly hope so…), it does serve to hint at our odd penchant toward believing that adding something to an unhealthy situation somehow makes it less unhealthy, despite our knowing full well that it’s only making it yet more unhealthy… albeit perhaps in a circuitous way.
Running along the bottom of every page on this site is a quote about “taking away” by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that I find very inspiring and meaningful. On the opposite end of the spectrum is another quote that seems to get at the aforementioned conundrum of “adding to”:
If you try to hide the complexity of the system, you’ll end up with a more complex system.
While this quote is largely referring to one of the core philosophies of Arch Linux (my favorite Linux distro, by the way), I find it equally pertinent to everyday life. That is to say, adding things to one’s life in hopes of simplifying it only serves to create an even more complex life. Of course, complexity is not inherently unhealthy per se: just like pizza can be a wonderful treat when consumed in moderation, some complexity can infuse life with joy and wonder (just look up at the clouds to witness one of the most complex systems on our planet). However, problems begin to arise when complexity is added to mask deep-rooted problems instead of address them.
A prime example of this is attempting to organize a hoard of items by introducing new storage mechanisms. Through a sophisticated series of bins, folders, boxes, and indexes, one can tame even the unruliest of messes and bring order to chaos. But at the end of the day, the net result is unavoidable: there is now more stuff in the system, more complexity, more chaos. Was anything really gained? In some circumstances sure: perhaps this was part of a curation process in a museum or gallery, or a means of promoting accessibility to essential items that were otherwise buried amidst countless others of less import. But I would posit that the majority of the time for the majority of people, nothing is gained except more stuff; a problem, as the goal was almost certainly to attempt to deal with all that stuff and the stress and worry that comes with it. We know this is just a masking of the symptom and not a way to truly address the real problem of overaccumulation, yet time and again we convince ourselves that the vegetables on the sausage pizza make for a healthy pizza.
Next time, let’s skip the pizza altogether and just eat the vegetables. Let’s address the true source of our ire, be it our excess stuff, our excess weight, our excess sadness, or whatever else that is adding undue complexity and burden to our lives. Hiding the excess with more is counterproductive; eliminating the excess with less is rejuvenating.