I’ve always felt that one of Facebook’s most significant innovations was including the category of “It’s Complicated” among the options for designating your relationship status.
In fact, the value of that description extends way beyond relationships. In my experience, life offers few—if any—straightforward narratives. We gravitate towards explanations that are simple and reliable and we reflexively want to categorize the events and people we encounter in ways that are neat and tidy. Reality seldom cooperates but the tendency persists. (Arizona State psychology professor Robert Cialdini offers a pretty good explanation for why we do this in his classic book, Influence, a “must read” on the subject of human behavior.)
One of the smartest things I ever heard on cable news was a comment made by Colonel Jack Jacobs, a military analyst and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Responding to an interviewer’s question about whether or not changes in warfare were responsible for fewer Medals of Honor being awarded, Jacobs replied, “I’m not a fan of single factor analysis. There are lots of reasons why things occur and that is only one of them.” (Buddhists refer to this as dependent arising or dependent origination.)
Are homeless people lazy? Are conservatives heartless? Are liberals naive? You might think you know the answers to questions like these but the more closely and dispassionately you examine them, the more likely it is that you’ll find the real answers to be… complicated.