There’s an old saying, repeated in the recent novel “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday, about how “the foreign journalist who travels to the Middle East and stays a week goes home to write a book in which he presents a pat solution to all of its problems. If he stays a month, he writes a magazine or a newspaper article filled with ‘ifs,’ ‘buts,’ and ‘on the other hands.’ If he stays a year, he writes nothing at all.”
The notion that a superficial understanding of complex issues can lead directly to the quickest opinion stayed with me after reading the book. The more one delves into an issue, the more granular, overwhelming and interconnected the causes and solutions become. It can lead to a sort of spiral of nihilism, or fatalism, at worst. At best, it can create a humbling effect. A good way forward can be to narrow or segment the focus of whatever topic or project is proving more complex or expansive than assumed. This column won’t touch on any solutions or problems in war-torn parts of the world. But I often think about the passage quoted above when I set out to tackle any large article.