April 18, 2011

On Contradictions

I've been working on a project for a class I'm taking. It's an art class at my local university, and this is the last project of the semester. I've enjoyed the class tremendously, yet I can't wait to be done. All semester we've moved from project to project with little time to rest or reflect between assignments. It's exactly the kind of intense experience I wanted, and I'm so very glad that it'll be over in a week.

Sometimes I surprise myself with thoughts or feelings that seem to contradict themselves.  I can understand my feelings about my class: you can have a good experience and still long for a break, or look forward to an ending so that you can move on to the next good thing.

It's more puzzling when the contradictions show themselves in my behavior. How can I bemoan our society's obsession with celebrity culture, then gobble up an entire issue of People magazine during my visit to my dentist's office (and later regale my husband with the details of Reese Witherspoon's wedding)? Or consider myself a "woman of substance" AND blather on (and on) about snagging a Marc Jacobs jacket for $25 (!) at a consignment sale?

My magazine subscriptions tell some of the story: Yoga Journal and Whole Living, but also Vogue and Bazaar. Then there's my reading list: I'm reading both Everyday Zen and Pop! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything. It's a small source of comfort that the former is much more interesting than the latter.

Never mind that I'm working my way through the Buddhism section of my public library even as I accumulate art supplies as if the local art store was going out of business tomorrow. Surely these inconsistencies in my behavior mask some deep-seated personality conflict, one that I need to find and fix right now, no?

Well, uh, no. Not necessarily.

Years ago, a dear friend and I, over many glasses of wine, admitted to another dear friend our fear that the two of us were downright superficial people. Without missing a beat, and with great energy and affection, our friend said: "Well, sure, you may be superficial, but you're not shallow!"  At the time, we all broke into laughter and couldn't stop for ten minutes, yet we knew what she was trying to say. I've come to see the value of that seemingly illogical (and still very funny) statement. "Superficial" doesn't have to mean "shallow," no matter what the dictionary says. And by extension, "contradiction" isn't automatically bad.

I think of consistency these days less as a virtue than as a practical consideration. There's no doubt that it's important to be consistent about such things as doing what we promise to do or showing up when we say we will. People need to know that they can trust us, and consistency of action and thought is part of how we build that trust and our sense of integrity. This is consistency based on values. Contradictions that attack our core values are worth paying serious attention to.

Often, though, our contradictions simply make life more interesting and colorful, and remind us that we're human. So why not enjoy them?  After all, as Oscar Wilde once said --very wisely, I think-- "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

Image by chexee, on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons License.

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