The Journey to Simplicity

“For myself I don’t know, but God gives me such a great esteem for simplicity that I call it my gospel. I have a particular devotion and consolation in saying things as they are.”[1]—Vincent de Paul

Recently I had the opportunity to address a group of students about nurturing mental wellness during law school. Knowing intimately some of the emotional challenges we shared during that period in our lives, one of my close friends from that time messaged me; I enjoyed the fact that we both had enough perspective now to laugh at the idea that I would be addressing others on such a topic. At the best of times, while accompanying students on their journeys I sometimes feel like saying, “I know and honor that this is really challenging for you now, but you are going to look back and really miss these times!” At other times I know students are faced with challenges that are more serious. But, in any case, I hold onto hope that there is room for perseverance and growth through all circumstances.

One of the reflections I had upon addressing this group of students was that, in many ways, law school was for me a time of emotional solitude. Since I planned to talk about the importance of a supportive community in nurturing mental wellness, I wanted to be honest that my own experience was often characterized by its absence. Still, I felt that was a tremendous opportunity for growth. As someone who was making major changes in my life during that time, as young adults often are, I found large amounts of time alone to have great benefits. While a healthy community is one in which we can embrace what Vincent called simplicity, or what we might call sincerity or authenticity, social relations inevitably involve some challenges to sincerity. Relations with others often invite the questions, Am I saying what I truly believe or what I think will raise me in the esteem of those around me? Do I present myself as I truly am or as others would like me to be? (Or as I would like to be?)

In a university environment, we pride ourselves on cherishing values such as academic freedom as essential to the pursuit of truth. However, a recent survey showed that among college faculty, whom we often think of as enjoying the height of such freedom and protections, more than 80 percent feel the need to “self-censor” their true views on at least one especially contentious issue.[2] While I don’t think all issues are that contentious, I don’t believe this is limited to one issue, nor is this only a recent phenomenon.[3]

In academia, as in other spaces, those who succeed can sometimes be those who learn best how to know what others expect them to think or say and learn to meet those expectations. It can be developmentally appropriate or indicative of an appropriate humility to tailor one’s self-presentation to the expectation of others. As I often explore with students, however, it is one thing to selectively choose to share what one thinks at the appropriate time and place. It is another thing to realize that one is so good at saying or doing what is expected that one no longer has an authentic sense of self that is independent of what is rewarded in a certain environment. In pursuit of such authenticity or simplicity, important tools can include solitude in which dialogue with the self or the Divine takes place, and a supportive community where one is free to explore ideas in a challenging but safe way. Christians in our community have entered the Lenten season, and Muslims will soon enter the month of Ramadan. These blessed times are filled with time honored traditions which blend individual and communal encounters with the self and the transcendent in ways which invite us to cultivate our best, most authentic selves.

Being people who can truly know what we think (what we might think of as sincerity with ourselves) requires certain conditions. Being able to share heartfelt and considered views with others requires other conditions, such as trust and charity toward each other. Some might argue that the primary condition required in all such circumstances is courage, and I agree. I would join that with a call for examining the environments and cultures we create, and the ways in which we nurture sincerity or encourage conformity and groupthink.

For Reflection:

Do you feel that you are able to bring your authentic self to your work at DePaul? What practices help you to establish and maintain a connection with your true opinions and desires? What do you think is the most essential characteristic of individuals or communities in fostering simplicity or authenticity?

REFLECTION BY: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry.

[1] Conference 52, “The Spirit of the Company,” February 24, 1653, CCD, 9:476.

[2] Manuela López Restrepo, “’Fear Rather Than Sensitivity’: Most U.S. Scholars on the Mideast Are Self-Censoring,” NPR, December 15, 2023,

[3] See this thoughtful exploration of the intellectual costs of such self-censorship from thirty years ago: Glenn C. Loury, “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of ‘Political Correctness’ and Related Phenomena,” Boston University, accessed February 15, 2024, https://‌‌Departments/‌Economics/‌Faculty/Glenn_Loury/‌louryhomepage/papers/Loury%20(Politcal%20Correctness)_02.pdf.