Oikos and Simplicity

Simple fact: options don’t make us happy. I am not going to spend any amount of print trying to prove that, it’s just the truth. There are books about it. Take it up with them, but for the remainder of this post, we’ll regard that as fact.

I wrote a few days ago on oikos, the church planter buzz word that just means your social network, the people you know. I suggested that creating a schedule for yourself to maximize your potential for impacting people would lead to a simpler and possibly happier lifestyle.

“Norm!” everyone yells as the chubby guy walks into the bar, which is fitting because the theme song for the tv show Cheers wraps up with the line, “you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

In the modern day equivalent, “How I Met Your Mother,” Barney says, “Ted, you keep going to the same bar, you’re in a rut.” Ted replies, “It’s not a rut. It’s routine.” To which Barney replies, “What is the first syllable in rut-ine?” And he is right. It is routine. He and his friends sit at the same table in the same bar in every episode. They know Carl the bartender and Wendy the waitress well.

These two shows one that ran from 1982 until 1993, and the other which started in 2005 and is ongoing both reflect the desire we have as people to be plugged in, wherever we are. We desire relationship in a world where we have fewer and fewer close friends.

But that’s not what this post is about. It is about the fulfilling power that simplicity has in our lives. Everyone has written on it from pop-culture writers like Chuck Klosterman in “Here’s Johnny,” where he mourns the loss of shared experiences due to 500 cable channels. People aren’t seeing the same things any more.

Barry Shultz is credited with the application of this to consumer products. In his book Paradox of Choice he lays it out pretty simply, “Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.” You can listen to him talk about that a little more in his TED talk  which I highly recommend.

So, building for yourself a life and where your life is predictable and you are utilizing fewer options you will have a life that is simpler and therefore more fulfilling.

What does this have to do with oikos?

When an element of choice is taken out of things (It’s Thursday. Thursday night is movie night) then you have a certain amount of stress cut from your life, it is a decision that is already made for you. If there is a group of friends who are doing this with you then you have the added bonus of being with friends. If you are routine then you have the ability to invite anyone to any event and know what you’re doing that night. If you have a variety of events (church, game night, bar night) then you have several things to invite a person to based on their interests.

In short, having established plans at established locals reduces the amount of ambiguity in your life. This also leads to greater relationships with the people at each of those locals: church, restaurant, bar, grocery store. If you’re in the business of meeting new people and getting to know who they are, this is one effective way to do it as well as add simplicity to your life.


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About coleyoakum

My name is Coleman Yoakum. I am formerly a student at Harding University. Today you can find me in Detroit Michigan doing what I can to expand the Kingdom of God and preparing to start an intentional community in Pontiac. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, music and politics. I am sure that all of these things will find their way to this blog from time to time. Twitter: coleyoakum Facebook: Coleman Yoakum Email: coleyoakum@gmail.com Flickr: flickr.com/photos/coleyoakum/

2 responses to “Oikos and Simplicity”

  1. Greg says :

    Excellent post Coleman. Dallas Willard speaks some to the danger of choice in his book “Renovation of the Heart”:

    “In the ‘modern’ condition, feeling will come to exercise almost total mastery over the individual. This is because people in that condition will have to constantly decide what they want to do, and feeling will be all they have to go on. Here lies the secret to understanding contemporary Western life and its peculiar proneness to gross immoralities and addictions. People are overwhelmed with decisions and can only make those decisions on the basis of feelings.”

    **(Ironically he uses shows like Cheers and Seinfeld (my personal favorite) to illustrate this, whereas I see you using them in the opposite way, to show the positives of FEWER choices, and I think yours works a little bit better than Willard’s) He goes on to describe Leo Tolstoy’s observations about Russian peasants who worked hard every day and had few things beyond their daily routine of work and family:**

    “The peasants whom Tolstoy admired so much were not yet swallowed up in modernity. They had solid traditions of faith and community that provided a ritual form of life- and of death. The result was that they knew what was good to do without regard to their feelings. Good was not determined for them by how they ‘felt’ or what they thought was ‘the best deal.'” (…) The overall order in which they lived usually gave them great strength and inner freedom derived from their sense of place and direction, even in the midst of substantial suffering and frustration. (…) The mongoose of a disciplined will under God and good is the only match for the cobra of feeling.” (126-127)

    I absolutely love Willard’s writing here, especially as I see it portrayed so well in the lives of the students I minister to. Everything they do it seems is a choice based on feeling…I don’t FEEL like doing one thing, so I will decide to do this instead…and I am able to, because I have so much choice! Everything they need is provided for them by someone/something else (food, clothing, shelter), so any choice they make will not affect their needs or life itself; thus their only choices revolve around WANTS, which are inevitably directed by our feelings.

    I’d love to know your thoughts on this, too, in your work with students in Detroit.

    Appreciate you brother…thanks for your kingdom work.

    • coleyoakum says :

      Greg, I think you’re totally right.

      We as a planet are moving toward a place where we don’t have to wait for anything. Cel phones took away the need to wait to ask someone something. Smart phones took away the need to wait to look something up or fact check. Fast food took a 30 minute process of barbecuing a hamburger and turned it into a three minute process. We have made a world for ourselves where we can act on impulse. Impulse control is now a thing of the past.

      This ties into oikos because we can do whatever we *feel* like, basically whenever we *feel* like it. And since our feelings can change on a whim so can our actions. We don’t have to go to the same places any more than we feel like it. Just think of the plethora of options you have in Searcy alone when you *feel* like mexican food. You have three options that are all the same and if you throw in fast food to that mix you have three more options. You never have to go to any of those places more than once even if you *feel* like having mexican food every day.

      My kids in the city are a little different. There is a very real sense in which Detroit is like a third world country. None of my students, though two of them are college-aged and the rest are in upper high school, have a car. Public transit is unreliable at best and doesn’t exist at all in most cases. No one has any money so there is not a plethora of business around. Each neighborhood has a social hub which houses the coin laundry, the liquor store and the dollar store. So, similar to Tolstoy’s Russian peasants, they don’t have a lot of options. So they have a routine of places they visit, places they eat, and routes they walk to get there.

      It isn’t until you hit the burbs that there is a whole lot of choice.

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