The search for elegant solutions

A Christian Science perspective.

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Mathematics uses the description “elegant proofs.” These are answers that use few theorems or laws, and are short and easy to understand. [Editor's note: the original version of this article incorrectly included the phrase: "and have few flaws."] They are immediately right, clean, and have style. This kind of solution is the shortest path between two points, and without it, the unknown answer may appear on the surface to be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

We can also speak of elegant proofs or conclusions that emerge from social and political problems. These problems can appear to be irreconcilable until the simplest of solutions bridges the divide.

Resolving the differences between ideologies appears almost impossible in today’s contentious political climate, but when the elegant laws of spirituality are applied to them, the gulf is narrowed, and the good in seemingly opposite ideologies actually complements each other. A beautiful tension emerges that holds extremes in check, respects the other position, and leads to an immediate, and usually simpler, answer.

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Malachi, in the Bible asks, “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (2:10). Correspondingly, in her principle work, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church, wrote, “With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 469-470).

One side may look at an issue and see the proverbial half-empty glass while the opposing side sees it half full. The right answer might be that we have the wrong size glass!

In a somewhat humorous, less profound example, I remember many years ago, when I was in the restaurant business, sitting in the board room with the operations department butting heads with the finance division, as is often the case in business situations. The chairman of this rather large national coffee shop chain was trying to avoid a shortfall in projected earnings of over a million dollars. Operations had come up with new products and elaborate changes in service systems. Marketing had developed some promotions that might solve the problem. Finance, on the other hand, presented somewhat draconian cuts in labor and portion sizes.

The debate roared for a couple of hours, when finally the chairman and founder whispered something to the chief financial officer, who immediately disappeared from the room. Returning within five minutes, he handed the chairman a small folded piece of paper. The chairman announced, “The meeting is concluded. We have solved the problem. We are raising the price of coffee five cents!” That simple change was all it took to evaporate the stubbornly held positions of the opposing divisions in the company.

The adversary is never a person. The only adversary is evil (stubborn pride and selfish will) as opposed to goodness (impersonal and inspired ideas). Opposing positions – whether political, social, or economic – usually come from those who hold to their honest positions from a sense of partisan, human principles. Christian Science defines God as infinite Principle. When we turn to God, Principle, humbly listening for a spiritual answer, we are actually praying. If we follow this higher, more elegant idea, then we are putting into practice inspiration from a higher source, which no one can oppose.

The most elegant answer to every issue, small or great, will always be spiritual. In writing her autobiography, Mrs. Eddy shared some insight that I’ve found useful in the context of finding solutions to problems that seem complex. She wrote: “Mere historic incidents and personal events are frivolous and of no moment, unless they illustrate the ethics of Truth. To this end, but only to this end, such narrations may be admissible and advisable; but if spiritual conclusions are separated from their premises, the nexus is lost, and the argument, with its rightful conclusions, becomes correspondingly obscure. The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” pp. 21-22).

Thus we can all benefit by considering which arguments we are holding to that are self-serving, self-willed, and self-justified, and be humble enough to let them go as uninspired, inelegant thinking. Doing so will turn us to the divine source of ideas, and adversarial positioning will proportionately disappear.

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