Can you hear me now?

package of original johnsonville brats

I ate too much last night. My wife had ‘girls night out’ which left me unsupervised as I made my dinner.

I powered through an entire package of Johnsonville Brats. Cause and effect… I was wide awake at 2AM, bloated as a poisoned pup. Uffda!

And, yes. It was worth it.

“What the hell”, says me? Good time to catch up on some random and completely unnecessary web browsing.

As it turns out, I learned something from Leo Babauta over on I had for years considered myself a minimalist. Whether other people agreed or not is irrelevant. It was my self-view. Leo brings up a good point, “[minimalism is] basically an extension of simplicity — not only do you take things from complex to simple, but you try to get rid of anything that’s unnecessary. All but the essential.”

It’s a nice distinction. I have some things that are unnecessary but I won’t jettison them until they becomes a nuisance. Not many things. Just some things. It’s more accurate to say, “I’m a practitioner of simplicity.”

Simplicity and minimalism are very closely related but not exactly the same. So, why split hairs? Because definitions are important. It’s how we see the world. Crisp, distinct definitions lead to a clear view of the world. Fuzzy definitions lead to a fuzzy view. Non-existent definitions lead to blind spots, things out there in the world that you simply cannot see.

I never thought about the importance of definitions much until 1995 when I read The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. Robin describes in chapter one—The Joshua Tree Epiphany—her experience on Christmas when she received a tree identification book. In this book was a description of a Joshua tree, a strange desert dwelling plant. She was sure she had never seen one until later that day. In the cul-de-sac where her parents lived were four houses with Joshua Trees in the front yard. Robin hadn’t seen her neighbors’ Joshua trees for thirteen years. Only when she had a definition—some way to distinguish Joshua trees from all other trees—was Robin able to see them.

Definitions allow us to distinguish between things and the distinctions bring _those_ things into view.

Distinctions matter. They affect one’s world view. But not all distinctions matter to all people. For some people, the difference between simplicity and minimalism may be irrelevant. Perhaps they are neither a practitioner of simplicity nor a minimalist and the difference between the two _is_ splitting hairs—in their world, in their experience. But in my world, in my experience, the difference _is_ important.

Connecting the dots. It behooves us to invest at least a modicum of interest on the definitions our friends and colleagues find important. It is the mutual set of distinctions which people hold that allows them to communicate with any degree of precision. Without a mutual set, it’s unlikely that any message will be heard. The words may be there but listener can’t hear them. Much like Robin couldn’t see the Joshua tree.

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