Keep An Open Mind: 4 Ways Contradicting Yourself Can Be A Virtue For 20-Somethings
In our lives, we'd like to stand for something. It's not enough to merely exist. We have to make sure that while we're here, we live a life dedicated to our values and beliefs.
Unfortunately, this is not so easy to do, especially for our generation. Years ago, before technology had connected most of the world, men and women were insulated in their own communities, with few outside forces calling their lifestyles into question.
If you grew up in a Christian family, you would probably spend the rest of your days believing everything that was in the Bible. Nowadays, you can be a tolerant pacifist who also spends the weekends slaughtering endless racial stereotypes in the latest video game.
Maybe you're into Buddhism, which preaches detachment from worldly desires, but the problem is, you're also into expensive clothes and cars. Those two interests might be genuine passions for you, but they also seem to conflict.
Sure, you could think of this as a problem. Our generation is so in touch with all the ideas out there, few of us are able to commit to one and truly embody it. But that's a limited perspective.
The truth is, there are ways in which contradicting yourself can be a virtue:
Focus on Actions
First of all, be aware that, no matter what your latest spiritual guru may have told you about the importance of monitoring your thoughts (“for they become things”), you need to let yourself relax.
Almost everyone experiences thoughts and attitudes, which run counter to how he or she truly sees his or herself.
That's perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's human, and there are few instances in which you should deny yourself your humanity. What really matters is not what you think, but how you act.
If you hold yourself to a certain ethical and moral code, don't be ashamed if your mind strays from it, or if you engage in a harmless activity (see: video games) which seems to align with a different code.
You don't need to worry about how you think; that habit just leads to expensive therapy sessions. Actions will always be more important than thoughts.
Embrace an Open Mind
Is it possible to have your mind so open that you'll accept any idea, even the foolish or dangerous ones? Probably, but we overestimate the probability of that happening.
As we've seen throughout history, people in general are slow to change their minds on most matters, especially those which are important to them.
It is far more likely that you'll find yourself stuck in the same mental patterns, unable to yield to fresh, potentially nourishing ideas, simply because those ideas don't correspond to your value set.
The best lives involve experiencing as much as possible, and that means accepting numerous perspectives.
Not only should you not judge yourself for holding two contradictory ideas, but sometimes, you should actively strive to hold an idea that you couldn't see yourself ever accepting.
If it doesn't match your true nature, you'll naturally come to reject it. On the other hand, you may find that it will actually come to reveal something else about your true nature, showing you a side of yourself you never knew and allowing you to more fully appreciate the world in which you live.
It's All About Communication
No one will deny that there have been instances when the communication of certain ideas resulted in severe consequences. But, overall, communication is a good thing.
It allows us to move beyond snap judgments and take the time we need to truly see where someone else is coming from.
If you decide that you don't want to contradict yourself, fine, but be aware that by doing so, you are committing to a life in which you will refuse to accept any idea that doesn't fit the mold you've established.
Whether you mean to or not, you are essentially setting yourself up for a life in which you reject true opportunities for positive communication.
Some might argue that just because you don't accept a new belief, doesn't mean that you failed to communicate; you just heard what someone else had to say and didn't think it rang true.
The problem is, if you've already decided to reject certain beliefs before truly engaging with them, then you will never truly hear anyone you don't agree with.
There are some bad ideas out there like racism, homophobia, bigotry, sexism, etc. The list is depressingly long, and you may be telling yourself now that there is no reason you should even consider listening to people who will promote those ideas.
You're entirely right. In fact, odds are, you're right more often than you're wrong.
It seems as though the tendency to judge ourselves for living lives of contradiction comes from assuming that, if we are following two opposing paths, one of those paths is the wrong one. That means that we, by extension, are also wrong.
No one wants to be wrong, but in the scheme of things, few ideas are so wrong as to be harmful. Hating an entire group of people? That's harmful. Worshiping both Jesus and Buddha? The consequences would be fairly minimal if you found out one of them never existed.
By realizing that it is acceptable for you to entertain ideas that don't always agree with one another, you are giving yourself the credit you deserve.
You are recognizing that you are not the type of person who will fall prey to the truly dangerous beliefs out there. Instead, you are the type of person who is willing to see the world in as many enriching ways as possible.
Walt Whitman had something to say about this topic:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.
Smart guy, that Walt Whitman, even if he did look like a cross between Santa Claus and a serial killer.
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