Nothing in life is simple. I mean that very literally. I learned this profound truth for a variety of reasons, through a variety of experiences, not the least of which has been navigating life as a level one, hypo-sensitive, gifted, autistic man.
The illusion of simplicity is often the result of experience. If you regularly drive on a daily basis you likely think of driving as simple. When you eat it can seem like the process is almost automated at times, you might not even take the time to savour the food you eat, eating comes so naturally to most that it is practically second nature. One simply puts food into one’s mouth and chews, simple right? There are a lot of seemingly simple things in life, as a kid I used to hear farmers in my rural town pass on the wisdom of simplicity when they’d say things like,
“Keep it simple, stupid.”
However over time I learned that “simplicity” is really a matter of perspective. What is simple to one person can, and often is, very complicated to someone else. I think that walking is simple. I put one foot in front of the other without so much as a conscious thought. My daughter is thirty months into her life and she certainly doesn’t seem to think walking is simple. I have more than a few friends with physical disabilities that complicate walking for them in ways that I can never truly appreciate. I might describe walking as simple but they certainly wouldn’t, for me walking is casually approached and sometimes avoided when I feel tired from the days events, for them walking is a dream or a goal to aspire toward.
I have been a martial artist my whole life. For twenty years I have studied boxing and other striking and grappling arts. As a lifelong martial artist the act of punching is simple, something I have performed thousands of times under pressure, often while in danger. However I can tell you that a punch is not simple at all. When I teach beginners they often assume that the formula for a punch is something like,
Fist, plus face, equals punch.
However by the end of just the first lessons the most commonly shared sentiment I hear from students is “wow, this is WAY harder than it looks.” Over time I came to appreciate how true that sentiment is across most of my lived experiences.
When a human being takes a single footstep the underlying mechanisms that are required for such a complicated action are staggering. As my daughter develops and is learning to walk I can see this struggle play out with her every attempt. She, like all of us that are able to walk, has to negotiate the feeling of balance, proprioception, something that she had to develop with over a year of struggling to stand and maintain balance while holding onto objects near her, BEFORE she even takes her first step. She used to hug a couch and try to maintain upright balance as she imitated mommy and daddy and often couldn’t hold herself upright for long, falling onto her butt with a laugh. After a full year of merely learning to stand upright she started trying to walk while still holding the couch for support, something referred to as “cruising.” Her brain was navigating balance, muscular development and control, visual, auditory and olfactory input, constant awareness of potential dangers or threats, learning what threats even exist in the first place that need to be avoided, like stairs. Additionally her body was engaging in immune function to heal bruises from past falls, unilateral motion and coiling core co-operation, measuring hunger and thirst, all while trying to land on solid footing and then take a second, continuing, stride.
As a man on the autistic spectrum some of the everyday tasks that the average person encounters are extremely challenging for me. Tasks that others might assert are simple. An average person might grab a sweater on the way out the door because it is a touch chilly outside. For someone on the spectrum this can be surprisingly complicated. What average people notice about a sweater of choice differs from person to person but for the most part it’s a question of fit and fashion appeal. For someone on the spectrum a choice of sweater brings up many questions. Is it too bright? Is it tight or loose? Does it have a tag? Is it scratchy? Are the arms too long? Does it have a hole in it? Is it clean? Does it need more holes in it or less? Why does it have to be clean? Who decides what constitutes clean? Is it my sweater or am I confusing it with a sweater that looks like my sweater? Will anyone get upset at me if I wear this sweater? Am I taking too long to decide on a sweater?
I encounter all kinds of things in my day that others find simple and think me odd for “over-complicating” and I am often frustrated with such sentiment. The good news is that nothing in life is simple, some of the things that neuro-typical persons find complicated I as a man with autism find simple.
It is a matter of perspective.
I might be picky about a sweater. I might forget the thing I was going to do for the tenth time. I might be overwhelmed at the noise in the shopping mall on any given day. However I am not overwhelmed when asked for my honest opinion.
“Does this look good on me? Does it make me look fat?” my friend says.
“No it doesn’t look good on you. It doesn’t make you LOOK fat because you ARE fat but that doesn’t matter, people have different shapes and every shape is appealing to someone. You should wear what YOU like. People will like you for YOU.” I say without hesitation.
My friend stares at me for a moment unsure of how to take what I said.
For them answering such a question as the one that was just asked of me would be very complicated. They might consider things like “how would they feel if I said…?” or “would they get mad at me if?” or even “I wouldn’t want to insult someone with a completely accurate answer.”
In my mind they are over complicating it. It’s simple… or is it?
My friend begins to laugh at my response, she understands that I am answering with honesty and I would never do anything to insult or hurt her deliberately. I am a very caring person and it shows in how protective I am, how quick I am to offer help or share the things I enjoy or care about.
My “candour” as it is so often described is extremely useful when I coach developing fighters or train bodyguards or work with sexual assault survivors. Such direct and clear communication is of paramount importance in certain situations. It is merely inconvenient or unwanted in other situations. I’d like to be able to offer the perfect response in every situation but no one is capable of such a thing. I struggle with the concept a little more than the average person but everyone bumbles from time to time.
Everyone has challenges. There are things any one person might attest are very complicated or difficult for them. What any one of us assert is simple actually isn’t, it is merely simple for a type of person and complicated for someone else. The truth is that nothing in life is simple.
I am very thankful that nothing in life is simple because the one thing that brings people together most commonly is supporting each other with the challenges we all face.
Nothing in life is simple. Challenge is opportunity, to grow, to connect, to learn and most importantly to work together.
We all need each other because nothing in life is simple.