Don’t Get it Twisted…

“I may now and then contradict myself… but I never contradict the truth.”

Photos of Montaigne throughout his life
Photos of Montaigne throughout his life

Are the pursuits of truth and knowledge of self so noble ventures that they justify people contradicting themselves time and again throughout their lives?

In life, everyone has friends and family who point out contradictions in their actions and words. In my case, the role is played by my younger brother. He argues that since I used curse words profusely when I was younger, I can’t lecture him not to do the same thing now. His argument makes sense and is pervasive in humanity — whenever someone seems to contradict themselves through action or speech, we tend to see this as an act of deception. On a similar note, throughout our lives, we form ideas of who we are, what we like, what we do, etc.; this idea of identity is undoubtedly helpful at times. However, when our sense of identity is too rigid, this hinders our growth by garnering feelings of fraudulence whenever we attempt to break the barriers and identity we’ve concocted.

Montaigne pushes back against this idea in his essay. He proposes that instead of our sense of self being some static, unwavering entity, why not look at ourselves as ever-changing and fluid individuals? Even though Montaigne at 25 years old thought in a certain way, that doesn’t necessitate that Montaigne the 40 year-old must hold the exact same beliefs and opinions. And in both instances, despite the difference in conclusions, his end goal is always to find the truth.

Montaigne’s attitude towards identity is one we all subconsciously embody and is the very thing that makes us human. This is what allows us to undergo any growth whatsoever throughout our lives. Without this tool, we would be stuck in the same exact positions that we were in when we formed our first idea of self. Hopefully this concept sheds light on the idea that most people are constantly evolving beings with constantly evolving ideas, opinions, and actions.

When someone you know gives you advice that is contradictory to how they have acted in the past, take a moment to think. Instead of quickly dismissing them, you should probe their change of heart and see if there are any lessons or truths you can pull out of it.

As Walt Whitman once said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I’d like to give credit of my knowledge on Montaigne and this quote to Professor Ernest Gilman at NYU. Thanks so much!

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Jack Fisher

Jack Fisher

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