Month: May 2016


Clarity and Judgment

There are reasons a person might be unclear. For example: Subtlety might be in order to be sensitive to eavesdroppers. A person might be vague in an effort to hide a secret. Though, the secret might be that the person does not know what he is talking about. His lack of clarity actually might be obfuscation. Or maybe there is no secret at all. Maybe the person just cannot string together coherent sentences. There are many reasons for being unclear.

Another one of those reasons is this: A person might know exactly what he is talking about and how to say it clearly, but clarity would open him up to judgment. It is hard to judge what is not clear. It might be good. It might not. Who would know? After all, it is not clear.

The propensity to be unclear for fear of negative judgment is accentuated by a natural human reaction to confusion. The receiver of unclear communication regularly blames himself but keeps quiet about it for fear of being perceived as ignorant.

“Is that guy chewing on marbles or am I an ignoramus? Surely the reason I don’t understand him must be that I’m stupid.” That is a common reaction when listening to someone who sounds confusing.

Thus, being unclear is doubly rewarded. Not only does it avoid negative judgment, but it regularly elicits hushed insecurity. Being unclear is a safe way to communicate.

But lack of clarity will never inspire people. Better to speak clearly and risk the possibility of negative judgment. Be transparent and give people something to react to.


Listening Tour

For a while now it has been on my heart and mind to launch a simplicity listening tour. As I sit down to write my next book about simplicity, I am eager to get up and hear from others. What do people around my city, state, country, even around the world think about simplicity? What do you think about simplicity? Why are you attracted to simplicity? Where does simplicity fall short? What hope does simplicity evoke in you? Can simplicity help meet some of the challenges of our world?

So, would you be interested in participating? A listening tour can happen a number of ways. Here are some ways it could work. Feel free to suggest a different format.

Meet over coffee or a beer for a couple of hours and share your thoughts and experiences of simplicity. This would be a great format for small groups (2-5). We’d all benefit from a shared experience and new friendships. And these kinds of small setting sometimes percolate unforeseen outcomes.

Meet at a venue (church, office, school, library, shop) for a few hours to conduct a Simplify the Middle Workshop. This is a very interactive workshop I’ve developed that applies simplicity as a means to solve a specific challenge. This would be a great format for a bit larger group (5-20) interested in using simplicity to meet a need. The group would benefit with some actionable take aways. I’d benefit from listening while facilitating.

Meet at a venue for several hours and I will give a simplicity talk then group Q&A. This does not seem like “listening” at first glance. But what I have found is that sometimes people prefer to listen before they warm up to talk. I have a specific lecture I give at the end of every semester when I teach. It has never failed to elicit applause and lots of follow up discussion. (Trust me, neither are a given in a college classroom.) This would be a great format for a larger group (20+) where circling chairs would be difficult. Post talk, we could break into smaller groups. The benefit to the group would be a provocative talk leading to discussion. I’d benefit from listening in and from follow-up conversations.

The goal I have set is to schedule at least 10 of these listening gatherings between June and December. I have room for almost double that in my schedule, if this takes off.

Since my original simple-living project the 100 Thing Challenge gained public attention, the most satisfying experience I have had is listening to and learning from the wisdom of other people. It means so much to me to hear from others.

Let’s see where this goes. If you are interested, please reach out to me. We will discuss if one of the above formats is a fit or if you have another idea. We can discuss logistics, too. I would not want to charge for this but if it involved travel to get to your venue, we’d need to talk through those costs.

Bottom line: our overly-cluttered world hinders flourishing. I believe simplicity is one means to amplify human flourishing. It would be a privilege to hear from you.

Directly contact me:


Thriving Space

Only so much space exists between things. What we put in that space affects the quality of our relationships. Here, think of it this way. When you meet with a friend, there is physical space between you. Think of meeting at a coffee shop to catch up.

There is a table between you and your friend. If the coffee shop has done its interior design well, the table is large enough to keep you from your friend’s personal bubble but small enough to keep the conversation intimate. The decor is made of physical objects in physical space.

No doubt the coffee shop is playing background music. Sound is a (kind of) nonphysical thing that exists in physical space. Ideally the coffee shop has chosen the right kind of music, playing it at the right volume. The music fills up some of the aural space in the coffee shop. If done right, you and your friend can hear each other without shouting and yet the many other conversations taking place around you are muted.

We bring with us nonphysical things that fill up nonphysical space. The conversation between you and your friend is filled up by language. That language is filled up by metaphors and idioms and, in the case of friendship, shared experiences that a single word or certain look can call to mind.

Think for a minute what would happen if too many physical and nonphysical things were added to the space between you and your friend. Imagine that sitting on the small table are several large shopping bags, a tall flower arrangement and your friend’s two pugs. The coffee shop is playing country music awfully loud, next to you is a gaggle of teens laughing hysterically at YouTube videos and your friend’s dogs are barking at the toy spaniel that just came through the door. Your friend is a genius who knows six languages and in the excitement of telling a story she keeps changing from one language to the other, sometimes mid sentence. There are too many things filling up the physical and nonphysical space between you and your friend.

Humans are natural stuffadders. Our tendency is to fill space. An empty shelf is the perfect place to put something. A quiet room is the perfect place for drumming pencils on a desk. A meditative mind is the perfect place to fret about monthly bills.

There is a limited amount of physical and nonphysical space between relationships. At some point, adding more things makes relationships suffer.

Simplicity is not primarily about reducing clutter. Simplicity is about making space for relationships to thrive.