Isn’t that a lovely-sounding word?
Its meaning, to add complexity, is even better. I know you’re thinking, Wait a minute, isn’t it all supposed to be about simplifying? Isn’t that what every single article is about? What about all that Zen shit I’m supposed to do?
Yeah, do it. Totally. I’m a huge of simplifying. But I’m an equally big fan of complexifying.
I didn’t invent this word. I came across it while reading Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, a book that came out of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book is FANTASTIC! One of the researchers I interviewed for my book about honesty recommended it.
The authors use the term complexify in some specific ways. For example, complexifying how you see yourself inside a difficult conversation helps you to avoid all or nothing thinking, so that you don’t wind up thinking that you are either ALL one thing or ALL another thing. Complexifying means that you shift around and try to see more of the picture.
I’m currently writing a book about what it means to live a more honest life, and it’s pretty much all about complexifying. One of the reasons I’m writing the book is that we think honesty is simple. We think lying is a thing other people do, or on the flip side, we think we’re lying about something that no one else is lying about. We make honesty an either/or dynamic and then we judge really harshly when it doesn’t work out how we think it should. We have quite complex ideas about honesty, but we keep trying to frame them in simple terms. It’s a mismatch, and it leads to all kinds of issues—shame and judgment being two of the most entrenched and destructive ones.
The point is, we don’t complexify very well when it comes to honesty. And when there are terrifying examples of dishonesty on the public stage of our government every single day, it’s even harder to complexify.
For example, you might say, “Our president is an extremely dishonest man, who lies with no regard for anyone but himself.”
I happen to believe this is a true statement. It’s not, however, a very complex one.
To complexify this thought about our no-good-lying-president, we might revise it to this: “Our president is an extremely dishonest man, who lies with no regard for anyone but himself. I wonder how honest I am in my own life, and what kind of regard I have for other people on any given day? What would happen if I focused on that?”
Now we can do something interesting with our indignation, something productive and generative. We can hold ourselves accountable and be better. Specifically, we can be better than just “not terrible,” and in the process, perhaps heal some of the shame and judgment that is bringing us all collectively down.
To be clear, you can still hold others accountable for their misdeeds when you complexify. (Believe me, I’m desperately waiting for the accountability to kick in with this current circus of hate and misogyny.)
The book is the story of me complexifying my relationship with honesty, like an offering in case anyone else has the same struggles.
It’s not a political book, by the way. I don’t care where you stand politically, as long as you are up for the task of thinking deeply about your relationship with honesty.
Oh, one caveat: If you are hurt, extremely angry, or still reeling from something traumatic, don’t try to complexify just yet. Just be. Feel what you feel and try to heal. Complexity will be waiting when you’re ready.