I Heart Contradictions

July 16, 2012

Growth and Flourishing

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
US poet (1819 – 1892)

The Dangers of Consistency

We do a huge disservice to ourselves when we try to make sure we appear consistent.  Consistency is a dangerous illusion.   It is dangerous because when we start telling ourselves that we are one thing, then we start choosing what things we want to say and do in order to be consistent with that one thing.  And this is a great way to disconnect you from your inner drive towards growth and flourishing.

This concept is complicated but can play out in labels large and small.  Here is a small scale example. I tend to be a bit of a goofball when I am not working.  While in goofball mode on a recent trip to Florida I bought a neon green tank top that says, “I heart Fl. Lauderdale, Spring Break!”  It’s deliciously terrible.  I was wearing this tank top on the way to the grocery store the other day when I caught the thought in my head, “Oh no – what if I run into a patient?  I am a psychologist, for goodness sake!  Psychologists do not wear neon green spring break tank tops in public.”  I evaluated that thought for a moment.  Is this thought really true?  My job is to be a psychologist.  I am wearing this tank top while not at work.  So apparently psychologists do sometimes make terrible fashion decisions.  There is no position paper put out by the American Psychological Association on the merits of the neon color palette (thank goodness).   There is no problem here.

The Power of Observation

Instead of making sure all aspects of my identity are consistent, these following steps occurred:

  • I chose what I wanted to do in the moment
  • I observed my choices
  • I learned about myself (e.g., I dress differently in different settings)
  • I carried on with my life

Of course, in this example there was nothing serious at stake.  In other more important situations I would add the step of considering whether my actions could potentially harm myself or others.

And from this silly little example I added in the smallest of ways to the rich complexity that is me.

Authenticity Does Not Need Consistency

The dangers of trying to be consistent relate to staying connected with our authentic self.  There is a lot of chatter these days about the authentic self.  Sometimes I worry that this concept gets misconstrued as just another label to stick on our selves.  The authentic self is not a thing.  I prefer to think of authenticity as a drive towards growth.  We all have this drive, although if we have been out of the habit of listening to this drive then it can take some effort to uncover.  Growth means sometimes taking risks, doing things you haven’t done before, observing if that thing felt right to you, and then choosing whether or not you want to do it again.  The opposite of growth is first labeling your self, then choosing actions to be consistent with this label.  As you explore all parts of who you may want to become, different interests and forms of being may grow.  Like different branches on the same tree.  And in my case one branch prefers Talbots while the other branch prefers neon.


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