Beware of the Easy Life “How-To”

I recently joined Twitter.  It’s like finding this new little world I didn’t know existed.  Being part of this world is sometimes a good thing (new connections, conversations, and ideas) and sometimes a bad thing (it’s a terribly effective procrastination tool).  I’ve found it to be a unique micro-representation of all the messages that scream at us constantly in this fast-paced, technology-driven world.  Some of those messages dearly and direly need to be heard, while others perpetuate ideas that have more than had their fair exposure and, frankly, could use a rest.

It’s the latter category I’m concerned with; specifically, I’m bothered by those messages that claim an easy “how-to” solution for life and relationships.  These are articles that, when I read them, make me want to bang my head against the wall (or at least my laptop keyboard).  Eugene Peterson was likely referring to similar ideas when he said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” (Guess where I saw that quote? Twitter.)

These types of messages aren’t new.  They’ve been around a long time in books, magazines, sermons, and who knows where else.  But now they are constant and they spread like wildfire. Here are a few examples (I made these up, but they’re similar to posts you’ll see on any given day):

  • 3 Ways to Save Your Marriage
  • 5 Traits to Look for in a Husband
  • How 15 Minutes Changed My Prayer Life
  • New Planning Method Makes Every Day Productive
  • How to Overcome Temptation

What do I think is wrong with these approaches?  For starters…

  • They oversimplify reality. You are complex.  Your situation is complex.  The people with whom you are in relationship are complex.  The God with whom you are in relationship with is complex.  There’s no way a short internet article is going to be able to address whatever issue you are dealing with.  You might be able to glean a few sound practical suggestions, but a “3 Steps To…” article cannot contain the holistic, comprehensive insight and information needed for real change.
  • They can distract from real issues and the real hard work required for progress.  Your marriage is in trouble.  You resent your wife and feel trapped now that you have kids.  An article tells you to say “I love you” every day and watch your relationship flourish.  That kind of simplistic strategy is going to waste your time–and hers.  You have deeper issues to engage, and it’s just not that easy.
  • They can make you feel like your only problem is you’re just not doing it right.  You read the article on overcoming temptation.  You’ve already tried all of the suggestions.  And yet, you still struggle.  Guess it’s your problem, then.  You must be doing something wrong.  No hope for you.
  • Anyone can write them. You know what you need to start a blog or online publication?  A connection to the internet.  Suddenly, you can proclaim yourself an expert on whatever topic you’d like.  Every time you read an article, consider whether you could write it–and whether you would trust your own knowledge and experience on the topic at hand.  (By the way–a person’s credentials guarantee nothing besides the fact they earned a degree and/or passed an exam.  Just because a person is a counselor, a pastor, etc., doesn’t mean you exempt them from your evaluation).

Life is not simple.  Relationships are not simple.  So please, please be careful what you read and what you buy into.  Consider sources.  Read different perspectives.  And yes, apply this caution to what I write, too, even this post you’re reading right now.  Sound complicated?  Good.  It is.

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