We like people to stay consistent for a simple reason: It is easy for us. When people stick to their opinions they are more predictable. And guess what: they want you to be consistent as well! So all your thoughts about life and the world in general should ideally never contradict each other.
Because whenever you contradict yourself that makes things complicated — and worse: suspicious! Maybe you were lying the other day when you said you preferred vegetarian food, now that I see you having a burger! Maybe you are a hypocrite riding a bike for ecological reasons and yet telling me about the thrill of fast muscle cars!
We even go so far to construct stories around our contradictions to give others — and ourselves! — the illusion of a consistent view of the world. We rationalize and smooth out the differences and edges. We build ourselves an identity.
Because again: that makes us more predictable and more likeable for others and ourselves. And when we contradict our identity we like to punish ourselves with shame, anger and of course: denial.
The dialectic approach of “the truth in the middle”
We do a similar thing in our conversations. When we disagree with someone else we feel tempted to find harmony on a middle ground, to create a collective identity. We say something like: “The truth lies in the middle of our viewpoints” and come up with a third viewpoint.
And weirdly enough this compromise isn’t satisfactory for any of us! Again, in this approach we try to smooth out the edges and contradictions to become consistent, this time as a group. Only one viewpoint is acceptable and we have to negotiate who is more “right” or “wrong” to develop some sort of synthesis.
Now what if we found a way to tolerate contradictions within ourselves and between each other? Let’s start with ourselves. Instead of making a clear decision for one viewpoint or find weird ways to cover up contradictions we could learn to oscillate between views:
Or maybe between even more viewpoints with lots of contradictions:
This would give us the opportunity to explore the space between and around the viewpoints instead of just freezing at a single position.
And what if in our conversations we would not fixate on figuring out who is “right” or “wrong” or on finding “one truth in the middle” but rather draw connections between opposite viewpoints and explore those opposites, learning about and from each other?
We could end up with a richer view on life and the world. We would keep moving our viewpoints and stay flexible. This doesn’t mean that we simply bend our views to avoid conflict. Rather we learn to establish viewpoints and we are strong enough to test and relate them to contradicting viewpoints — even within ourselves. The ability to tolerate and cultivate contradictions gives us time and space to explore those frictions and grow. If I tried to frantically just stick with one view I would seriously limit my perspective to … well … just one view. Learning to oscillate and tolerate contradictions might provide us with a richer toolset that enables us to approach complex questions more effectively.
On the other hand
But then again, I think this is nonsense. At some point we must make decisions about where we stand. Otherwise we end up confused, undecided, weak and incapable of taking action. And I can’t tolerate public figures who obviously change their positions depending on when and where they speak, lying to establish their position of power.
So there you have it: I just contradicted myself. And I am not going to try and resolve this contradiction today. I need time and space to oscillate and explore. So please join in and leave a comment with different viewpoints!
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