I’ve been noticing recently how many advertisements, special offers and other inducements to buy use the word “easy”. But what does it mean? For example, what is an easy-to-wear dress like? Does it allow me to put it on without scratching me or blocking the armholes? And what do book reviewers mean when they assure me that a new publication is easy to read? Well yes, for that I need to know the alphabet, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be reading their reviews anyway. And that’s not all. Things are easy to order, collect, book, exchange and even return. An atmosphere of endless easy possibilities surrounds us: we needn’t lift a finger and make an effort, just pay for the services (which is not always easy).
Why does this bother me? Partly because it reminds me of infancy, the time of spoon-feeding and helplessness; partly because it encourages passivity and lack of initiative. C.G.Jung claimed that humankind’s greatest passion is idleness, and that “man needs difficulties; it’s necessary for health”. Too true. Consider the collective flabbiness and the obesity epidemic that threatens to engulf us all: junk food is easy to pop in the microwave and eat, just as passively allowing the pounds to pile up within easy-fitting, expanding clothes requires no effort. The Fool’s Paradise of “easy” de-skills us; I dread to think what will happen if for some reason it cannot be maintained and we’ll have to do things the hard way.
Finally, here’s an example of how to waste time, money and effort in order to make a perfectly easy task even easier. My GP referred me to the local Health Centre for a minor procedure, so I rang the Centre and within three minutes had an appointment. All done, or so I thought. But shortly after the treatment I received a questionnaire from an NHS department, whose task was to facilitate the booking of appointments. I was asked many questions, including whether I had been treated with respect and kindness when ringing for an appointment, which is when I gave up and recycled the questionnaire. But wait: a week later another letter arrived, asking me why I hadn’t filled in the form. I rang the department and explained that the reason I hadn’t responded was that none of the questions were applicable to my perfectly simple experience, that I hadn’t needed or expected kindness and respect for a three-minute phone conversation, and could I please go home now…
At last I was able to ring off. But it hadn’t been easy.