The Essence of Simplicity by Charles Wagner

In the midst of a world in tumult, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by complexity. Simplicity is what we need now more than ever. We can find simplicity and tranquility through meditation, close contact with nature and deep listening skills that focus on one thing at a time.

Vintage man shooting arrow close up.

From 1903’s The Simple Life Charles Wagner’s contribution

When one considers the many factors that disrupt and complicate our lives, by whatever names they are given, and the list is numerous, they all point to the same fundamental cause: the misunderstanding of the secondary with the important. Material comfort, education, liberty, and civilization as a whole make up the frame of the image, but the frame does not create the picture any more than the frock makes the monk or the uniform makes the soldier. Man is shown here, together with his most valuable possessions, namely his conscience, character, and will. And, in the process of embellishing and embellishing the frame, we have ignored, neglected, and defaced the image.

As a result, we have a lot of outward good but are sad in spiritual life; we have a lot of things we can live without but are endlessly impoverished in the one thing we need. And when the depths of our existence are awakened by the yearning to love, aspire, and achieve our destiny, we experience the agony of someone who has been buried alive — suffocated by the mass of secondary things that weigh it down and deprive it of light and oxygen.

We must seek for, set free, and restore the genuine life, position things in their correct places, and remember that moral development is at the heart of human progress. What constitutes a decent lamp? It isn’t the most ornate, well crafted, or made of the most valuable metal. A decent lamp is one that produces sufficient light. So, too, we are men and citizens because of the strength of our moral fiber, not because of the amount of our things and the pleasures we secure for ourselves, not because of our intellectual and artistic education, nor because of the honors and freedom we enjoy. And this isn’t just a reality for today, but for all time.

At no point in history has the outward circumstances that man has created for himself via his industry or knowledge been able to absolve him of responsibility for the status of his inner existence. The world around us evolves, its intellectual and material aspects shift, and no one can stop these shifts, which might be dangerous in their suddenness. However, the most essential thing is that, in the face of changing circumstances, man should be man, live his life, and work toward his objective. And, whichever path he takes to reach his objective, the traveler must avoid becoming lost at crossroads and stifling his movements with unnecessary baggage. Let him pay attention to his direction and forces, and maintain good faith; and, in order to commit himself more fully to the necessary — is, growth — let him reduce his luggage to the bare minimum.


It will be important to define simplicity in its purest form before tackling the subject of a realistic return to the simplicity of which we dream. Because people make the same mistake we just said, confusing the secondary with the fundamental, content with form, when it comes to it. They are inclined to assume that simplicity has visible features that can be detected, and that simplicity is what it is all about. Simplicity and lower status, simple clothing, a modest abode, little funds, and poverty all appear to go together. Despite this, this is not the case…


No class has the right to simplicity; no garment, no matter how low in appearance, has its unmistakable mark. It doesn’t have to live in a garret, a cabin, an ascetic’s cell, or the lowest fisherman’s bark. There are those who live simply and others who do not, in all the forms in which life vests itself, in all social situations, at the top as well as at the bottom of the ladder.

We don’t mean that simplicity has no apparent indicators, that it doesn’t have its own habits, preferences, or methods; but this outer manifestation, which might be imitated from time to time, must not be confused with its core and its deep and entirely internal source.

Simplicity is a state of mind. It resides in the primary goal of our existence. When a man’s primary concern is to be what he ought to be, that is, honest and genuinely human, he is simple. And it’s neither as simple nor as difficult as one may believe. At its most basic level, it is aligning our actions and goals with the law of our being, and hence with the Eternal Intention that caused us to exist in the first place. Allow a flower to be a flower, a swallow to be a swallow, a rock to be a rock, and a man to be a man rather than a fox, hare, hog, or bird of prey: this is the total of the issue.

We are prompted to develop the practical ideal of man in this chapter. We observe particular amounts of matter and energy connected with certain ends all over the place in life. As a result, less organized substances are changed and transported to a higher level of organization. It is not the case with man’s life. The human aim is to make existence into something better than it now is.

Existence may be compared to raw material. What counts is what is made of it, since the worth of a piece of art is determined by the blooming of the artist’s talent. We each bring distinct gifts into the world: one has received gold, another granite, a third marble, and the majority of us wood or clay. It is our job to create these compounds. Everyone understands that even the most valuable material may be ruined, and that even the cheapest material can be used to create an everlasting masterpiece. Art is the fleeting manifestation of a lasting concept. True life is the application of higher values like as justice, love, truth, liberty, and moral strength to our everyday actions, whatever they may be. And this existence is feasible in the most different social settings and with the most uneven innate talents. The worth of life is determined not by luck or personal advantage, but by our ability to put them to good use. Fame isn’t as important as the number of days in a year: it’s the quality that counts.

Is it necessary to bring out that one does not arrive at this point of view without a fight? The attitude of simplicity is not a natural gift, but rather the fruit of a long struggle… Man, on the other hand, comes to a greater understanding of life via action and holding himself to a rigorous account of his activities. It seems to him that there is a law, and the law is this: Work out your objective.


Anyone who devotes his life to anything other than the accomplishment of this goal is missing out on life’s raison d’être. The egoist, the pleasure-seeker, the ambitious, does this: he swallows existence like a full corn in the blade, preventing it from yielding fruit; his life is gone. On the other hand, whoever makes his life serve a greater cause than himself preserves it by surrendering it. Moral norms, which at first glance look arbitrary and designed to dampen our enthusiasm for life, have just one purpose: to protect us from the evil of living in vain. That is why they keep bringing us down the same roads; that is why they all say the same thing: Don’t squander your life; make it yield fruit; learn to contribute so that it doesn’t devour itself!

Here is summed all humanity’s experience, and this experience, which each man must recreate for himself, is more valuable in proportion to its cost. He makes a stronger and more certain moral development, illuminated by its light. From the vacillating, confused, and complicated person that he was, he now has his means of direction, his internal standard to which he can bring everything back; and he becomes simple. His beliefs and behaviors are modified by the constant effect of this identical rule, which increases inside him and is proved in actuality day by day…

Within him is arranged the required hierarchy of powers: the fundamental commands, the secondary obeys, and order is born of simplicity. This internal life order may be compared to that of an army. An army’s discipline is what makes it powerful, because discipline consists of treating the inferior with respect and focusing all of one’s resources on a single goal: once discipline is loosened, the army suffers. Allowing the corporal to lead the general will not suffice. Examine your life and the lives of others with attention. When anything comes to a stop or jams, causing issues and chaos, it’s because the corporal has given the general instructions. Disorder dissolves when natural law reigns in the heart.

I’m afraid I’ll never be able to adequately describe simplicity. Everything that consoles, feeds hope, or throws a ray of light along our dark paths, everything that makes us see a splendid goal and a boundless future across our poor lives comes to us from people of simplicity, from those who have made another object of their desires than the passing satisfaction of selfishness and vanity, and who have understood that the art of living is to know how to give one’s life.