NOTE: My statements are not necessarily my opinions. I often post point-counterpoint essays in which I strongly take one side of an issue and later counter that with antithetical views. This intellectual exercise helps me see the merit in opposing opinions and augments my creativity.

Why I never attempt to be consistent

Ralph Waldo Emerson, widely considered to be a deep-thinking genius filled with wisdom, wrote:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with pockthread, do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

This excerpt, a small part of his Self-Reliance essay, was superbly translated into modern English by a modern-day deep thinker with a very interesting website and blog that demonstrate how a good mind can add to the world. Here is part of that translation:

“Do not try to be consistent. Trying to be consistent blocks the new creation that is constantly attempting to flow out of you. "Speak what you think today in words as hard as cannonballs, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today." Yes, you will be misunderstood. All great souls have suffered this indignity. You'll be in excellent company. You will be a cause, a creator, an architect of a new world, as all great souls have been who had the guts to see the world with honest eyes. Act and speak from that honest place and when you look closely at what you've done, it may seem you spout contradictory statements while you try to express the profound paradox the truth encompasses.” (Read the rest of this translation)

I never attempt to be consistent; I attempt to be correct intellectually and morally, and to constantly improve. If I were consistent, my errors of yesterday would become errors of today. Until the day that people are born perfect, filled with wisdom bestowed by a benevolent God or Mother Nature, individuals must either forgo consistency and improve, or embrace it and stagnate in imperfection.

I choose the former.

You?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Conformity or rebellion? Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded—they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.”
— Neil Stephenson in The Diamond Age

NOTE: I expanded this discussion toward the end of another article.

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

Comments (1)

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Comment #180 by Jessica Schmidt
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September 10 2011 04:11:34 PM

Love this blog, Dr. Pezzi,

How boring that must be to be consistent all the time. Many great ideas would have not been thought of if everybody agreed with each other and had the same opinions.

I, on the other hand, think life should be lived to the fullest and that everyone should have their own opinions and speak their minds! (As you probably already know I'm completely random too!)

Nobody is perfect and anyone who tries is in for a big disappointment. Nobody is normal either. It's kind of funny to see people judge others by what they think is normal and what's not. I don't think anybody really knows what normal exactly is—if that makes sense! It's kind of like that expression “The blind trying to lead the blind.”

But yes, I totally agree with you that not being consistent is the way to go!

REPLY FROM KEVIN PEZZI: Your comment inspired me to generate an article on this topic.

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