SIMPLISTIC: trite, to reduce a complex idea to an easy, uncomplicated level


The story is told of a theologianwho gets on a plane and finds himself seated next to an astronomer.   They greet each other and begin talking about their respective vocations.  At one point the astronomer says to the theologian, “I have come to the conclusion that all religion can be summarized by the phrase:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“That’s an interesting conclusion,” said the theologian.  “I too, have come to a conclusion.  I believe that all astronomy can be summarized by the phrase,

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.  How I wonder what you are.”


Obviously there was some animosity between the theologian and the scientist.  But in their responses to each other they have  both reduced their findings to simplistic thinking.   As you can see from their conclusions, their answers leave a lot to be desired.

It is the proverbial battle between the two words, simple and simplistic.  In their desire to reduce a complex idea to one of very simple construction, they have embraced simplistic answers.

Now there’s nothing wrong with trying to simplify a complex concept.   To say that “Peace,” for instance, is the absence of war and the building of a good relationship between parties, is a simple explanation of a very difficult concept.   But, while it is simple, it is not simplistic.

Simplistic implies an overly-stripped-down meaning which betrays the important characteristic  which are required to create it.  Simplistic  action carries a negative quality with it meaning that the effort falls short of achieving what it intends.

To say that:

  • success in business is simply the accumulation of great wealth
  • an artist is simply one who splashes paint on a surface
  • a good baseball player is one who can catch a ball
  • a luxury car is one with a lot of chrome on it
  • or, a good meal is one which has a lot of food on the plate

is to miss the point.  In each case, there is more to the story than has been identified by this simplistic definition.   A simplistic act betrays the difficulties encompassed in an action required to achieve the term being described.

We have seen a great deal of simplistic thinking revealed in the current Presidential campaign:

  • “The answer to the Isis problem is simply to carpet bomb the people of Syria.”
  • “Moslems are the problem.   We need to just refuse to allow Muslims entry to our country.”
  • “The way to solve the immigrant problem is to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.”
  • “We need to send all illegal immigrants home.”
  • “The national debt can be fixed by cutting our government’s size.”
  • “If we just tax the wealthy more, all our problems will be solved.”
  • etc., etc., etc.

When we are in stress, simplistic answers sound good.   “All we have to do is….” are dangerous words.  They, by no means, give credence to the time, energy, wisdom, and skill required to make a program work in government, especially in foreign policy.  Knee-jerk reactions can lead to huge problems which make matters even worse.


Illustration Credit: grammargirl

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