A guide to complexity

                A week later, I’m still thinking about the baseball game Zachary and I went to last week in Memphis—not so much because of the poorly played game (can’t anyone in this league execute a run-down!?!), but because of the group that sat in front of us in the stands. They were tourists from all over the UK who were taking an American holiday via train. Baseball, they decided, would be part of their experience. The only problem is that they did not know the first thing about baseball.

                “Why is that man walking toward the first goal? He didn’t even swing yet?”

                “Exactly how does one score in this game?”

                “Why is everyone so excited now? I didn’t see anything happen!”

                I explained the action the best I could, deferring occasionally to my son. I have been a baseball fan for more than thirty years, so long that its rules and strategies are second nature to me. I had no idea how difficult it would be to put what I know into words.

Apparently, the frustration was not all in my head. After listening to me fumble through an explanation of the balk rule, one poor gentleman threw up his hands and said, “My god! It sounds as though you Americans have created an exceedingly complex game out of cricket!”

I had no defense.

The experience has made me consider other things that exposure and practice have taught me to take for granted—riding a bicycle, for example, or speaking English. Or living as a Christian. It’s not that I do any of these things recklessly or without thinking. It’s simply that I do them without the need to narrate to myself what it is I’m doing. On occasions when I need to talk through it for the sake of teaching someone else—“Okay, now push down on the right pedal while keeping your balanced centered over the bicycle. Shift gears. Breathe.”—I’m sure I sound like an idiot.

Amazingly enough, however, our international evening at the baseball game turned out to be fun—and not just for me. The travelers from the UK thanked me and Zachary for guiding them through. “It’s so much more enjoyable when you have some idea of what’s going on,” one woman said.

So why did it work out, despite their lack of understanding and my difficulty in verbalizing the action? Certainly not because I made the game simpler for them, try though I might. The truth is that the complexity of its execution is just as much a part of baseball’s beauty as grace and skill of its athletes.

Things that are complex can also be beautiful, even if they can’t be simplified. We do not need complete understanding in order to appreciate what is happening. But we do need a guide—someone to help us see the difference between chaos and complexity, to not only explain but to stand with us in wonder.  

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