Stop Pretending It’s Possible to Avoid Contradiction

by Bulldog Drummond

This month’s principle is about appreciating life and growing, reflecting and embracing uncommon sense wisdom along the journey. We believe that good commencement speeches are excellent sources of uncommon wisdom, so we’ve decided to share some of our favorites. If you missed the first one, check it out here.

The second speech that we’ve chosen to share was delivered by Joss Whedon, a writer best known for his work on Toy Story and the Avengers films. Whedon’s message is that we must embrace contradictions, because life is full of them.

There is a great contradiction that exists between our minds and bodies. Our minds want us to go out into the world and achieve great things, while our bodies, on a cellular level, want to make babies and then die, essentially.

Contradiction is a constant in our lives and in our identities.

We make decisions, we choose certain paths and we have an idea of who we are. But on some level we are doing the opposite, we will be the opposite. Whedon says that this is a good thing because “You have…[the] ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key — not only to consciousness, but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in.”

To accept duality is to earn identity.

Whether we accept it or not, Whedon reminds us that contradiction never goes away. The tension in our lives will always be there, and there is no career, achievement, or relationship that will take it away. So, “if you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace.”

If you ignore duality, somebody else will sock it to you.

If you ever somehow manage to forget about, or numb yourself to, the contradictions within life and within yourself somebody else will remind you of them. Whedon urges us to question ourselves because if we don’t someone else always will. And if we have never considered the other points of view, if we have never challenged ourselves, our choices or our beliefs, they will be weak. “You don’t believe me, try taking a stand on just one leg…The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite.”

America doesn’t do well with the grey area.

And this is where Whedon’s uncommon sense wisdom becomes especially relevant. He reminds us that we as a country do not tend to do well with ambiguity — our country likes to polarize issues and ideas, “good or bad, black or white, blue or red.” But that is not real, the world is more complex.

Embracing contradictions allows us to find deeper connection.

The way that we go into the world understanding is to have these contradictions in ourselves and see them in other people and not judge them for it.” Because we are all connected to one another, in spite of, and sometimes because of, our disagreements. Connection, contradiction and tension are inextricably tied together. But connection is so much more meaningful when we are able to listen to the contradictions and sit with the tension.

How different might our country look if we as a nation were better at appreciating contradictions? What about our lives, work and relationships? What are your contradictions?

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond blog.

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