Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright 1998 Brent C. Dickerson

"Ay, Madam—it is common..."

      —Shakespeare, Hamlet, I : ii : 74.

     Ah, me! How people love simplicity! Ask a question of two people; and, let the first one address the question in every one of its facets, explaining to the minutest degree why conditions vary, why sometimes x can be y or z—or sometimes all three at once—indeed, let him demonstrate in wonderful detail the equivalent of why it is sometimes January, and sometimes not, the Plain Thinker and self-proclaimed Lover of Truth will smile at it as if at a mischievous boy, and choose as being correct rather the blundering answer of the second person—because it has the least syllables. Is it that we believe Truth shines so brightly? Or are we simply lazy, our simple minds preferring simple explanations?

     Such simplicity is perhaps mere pragmatism; it fights only to run away to live to fight another day. It has no native ground to defend; it does not even know what it itself is! Though, at first thought, it would seem that nothing could be easier than to be one's self, the process proving so exceedingly difficult to discover just what one's self might be—for, indeed, life is rather like being given a mine and then being obliged to live solely off the proceeds of it without being told what (if anything) the mine can produce, or how (if anyhow) to extract the product from the dirt—that people lazily content themselves with trying to copy the life and lifestyle of others, in things both large and small, regardless of applicability, evidently on some subconscious principle that, if it all goes bust, at least one can blame the other person! The great fear of fears is—that of taking responsibility; the great evil, that of making an effort.

     Now, I am sure that many benign and industrious minds are already sketching out pained responses to the above, pointing out tedious and responsible deeds of self-sacrifice which shame the very words used to compose these paragraphs. Yes, Reader; what is rare sticks in the memory! Rather, point out what is common. Not only do most people not have the courage of their convictions—they do not even have convictions.

     This is such an effete age, an age so lacking not only in ability to act but also will to reflect that mere fearfulness has delegitimized emotions as honest as indignation, sadness, anger, ridicule—indeed, anything that is the outcome of personal conviction; and the most appropriate individual attitude is supposed to be a sort of bland cheerfulness! But become indignant, sad, angry, sarcastic—anything which implies awareness of wrongdoing or shortcoming on the part of others—and the first suspicion of this effete age so afraid of any personal sense of ethics or duty is that you are either wrong or insane—and probably both, as our friend Hamlet was discovering in the scene referred to above. We saw in previous notes how "to a mediocre mind, everything is a mediocrity." Likewise, to a mind which has no notion of value, the values other people set will be meaningless. Thus you see, simple explanations are always preferred by simple minds; provide a sop of lazy simplicity, appeal to its commonness in substantiation, and hearts and minds will fall to you as to a new Alexander.

     Have we departed so far from any sort of settled individual virtue that we must act as if we were agnostics of morality, and nervously shake our heads and knit our brows at any situation, as if one could have no notion of right or wrong? No, Reader—Life teaches us every day that there is much injustice in this world, much not to be tolerated, much to bewail. It is the ultimate pessimism and selfishness to reduce one's own moral sense to being a cowardly, impotent spectator in Life's arena. Does that great and most human characteristic, simple laziness, prove to be the irresistable reveille which, perversely, awakens us from Life into a lolling land of indolent dreams? Are we to surrender everything to mere quietude, abandon our feelings, and leave personal conviction to others—if only they would take it up! And yet, this is the common way.

     Reader, if you have lived, why do you not have beliefs? And if you have beliefs, why do you not have strength? Else, you are fated to a weak and perpetual moon-gazing; like the girl in the song, you will have assigned your personal hopes to others' abilities—your Dance of Life will not be your own—what should have been your promenade will only be a defective version of sister Kate's shimmy. Your life's identity will simply have been forfeited to your laziness. Ah, me! How people love simplicity!

          "I know I'm late
           But I'll be up-to-date
                 When I can shimmy like my sister Kate."

from "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate", song (1919) by A.J. Piron.

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