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.
“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.