Someone told me recently that old adages are old adages because, generally, they tend to stand the test of time and hold true throughout the ages.
I hadn’t ever thought about old adages--or axioms, or old sayings or whatever else they may be called--in those terms before. I tend to use them from time to time, so recently when one came to mind, I independently decided that it must be the mother of all old adages; that is, “Keep It Simple Stupid,” aka, the KISS rule.
I mean, think about it, old adages are the very essence of KISS. They tend to boil down often-complicated issues into a pithy few words that can carry enormous weight, especially if uttered at the right time, in the right place by the right person to the right audience. If they are applied judiciously, old adages can stop people from doing something wrong or motivate them to do something right.
Let’s face it--life is complicated. Those three words have probably been said by every generation when comparing today with yesterday. Every past generation has felt that their generation was simpler, less stressful, more fulfilling than the present. Technology has accelerated that process over the past 100 years or so, probably, so now you may have three or even four generations comparing and contrasting.
In reality, each succeeding generation probably has become more complicated. If man’s evolution has been a gradual building of one generation’s experience upon the previous, it would stand to reason that, like an onion, the layers of complication would become more intricate as time marched on.
However, the KISS rule is intended to dissect all that clutter by breaking through the outer layers and getting to the core of what is important. KISS peels away the onion’s layers and reveals a manageable center, sort of like the inside of a Tootsie Roll pop. Then you simply decide how you want to handle it; slurp it slowly and cautiously until it’s gone or devour it up in one big crunch and then peel the remainder of it off the stick with your teeth.
I’ve eaten the Tootsie Roll both ways but I’ve got to say the latter is more satisfying, to me; which is not to say I haven’t gotten good vibes both ways or that it’s not the opposite for others.
As I think about this, it strikes me that the Tootsie Roll pop is sort of like the end result of the KISS principle; when applied, it often gives you the opportunity to get to the core of the matter at hand and see exactly what may be the central cause of your problem.
Then, you are in a position to apply solutions that can range from slow, methodical and time-consuming actions to try and gently influence a certain outcome; or, make one quick, decisive decision that will end what has been a long-recurring set of circumstances that have become a distracting issue for you.
A Sad Scenario
Let me give you an example that might resonate with many of you who have children in their mid-20’s and early 30’s.
I know a lady who has an older son, in his early 30’s, who has been a source of stress and consternation since early childhood. This gentle, well-educated and smart lady went through a divorce from an abusive man, remarried a good man who tried to be a good father to the boy as well as a daughter and a child they later had together.
However, in spite of the work both parents put into the boy, he remained combative, bitter, angry and disruptive to the family, the rest of whom would have gotten on splendidly except for the fume of antagonism the boy continuously exuded.
This trend continued on until the boy joined the military, got in trouble, got a discharge that was not an honorable discharge, married a girl who had been in an auto accident and had a part of her brain removed, had three children with her and then discovered she was unbalanced, to put it lightly.
They got divorced and, as frequently happens in a divorce, the children are hurt the most. The children, who are much in need of loving attention, are shuttled back and forth--not by two parents who have their best interests in mind, but who are using them as tools to gain control over the other.
It is a sad, but in today’s society an unfortunately often-told story. The children, who are not to blame for their circumstances, are the most impacted by the consequences.
During another expensive and divisive court battle over custody, the lady one day said to herself more than to me, “I’m done with this, I can’t do this anymore. If these two people can’t start acting like adults and realizing it’s about the children and not about them, I just don’t think I can deal with it anymore.” Phone calls with her son were normally tense and would end up with her upset over one thing or another that he’d said or done.
I am normally reluctant to give advice in cases like this; normally, listening and offering words of consolation are safer and more appropriate. But in this instance, I decided to stick my nose into her business and offer another perspective, one based on the KISS theory. I mean, I had heard her give sound advice to the son over and over again with no effect.
“Maybe that’s exactly what you should do,” I said. She looked a bit shocked that I’d said anything, so I kept going before she stopped me. “If it has gotten to a point where you no longer have control, then let it run its course and see where it goes. If you have done all that you can do to influence the outcome, then recognize you don’t have control of the situation and let it go.”
As I had listened to her conversation with the son I realized that for the two people fighting over custody, it was all about control, that was the core issue. And for the nice lady, she was trying to control a situation over which she had just recognized she no longer had any direct control.
She quietly seemed to be considering my words as she walked away. I don’t know if she took them. But that’s not the point here; the point is that I think this situation demonstrates how and when the KISS rule can be used.
When a problem in life appears to be too complicated, it’s probably time to back up a step or two, slow down, breathe deeply and analyze where you are. Peel off the layers of complication that surround the central issue or issues; it becomes more manageable to deal with the core of the onion than with all the smelly peelings that come off it.
I have a simple mind, which is probably why I can so readily identify with the KISS concept. But in reality, I think, with all due respect, all humans have simple minds--even those who have high IQs.
I’ve read that most people only use something like 3 percent of their brain. So we’re trying to pack 100 percent of complication into 3 percent of the brain, which has other things to deal with as well. Do the math, it doesn’t work.
So cutting complications from life and dealing with core issues seems to me to be the most effective way of freeing up some disk space in the brain. To do this, KISS more.
Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.