People are inconsistent. We must be; we’re alive, living, responding, changing. Funny thing is, in the West we’re often taught that this is a bad thing. It isn’t efficient. It isn’t dependable. It goes against all kinds of Protestant ethics of order and purpose and such. But in Eastern cultures, it’s often celebrated. “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” When the Buddha becomes a monolith, a never-changing dogma, it is no longer a life-giving source. I look to historical information and try to understand why people did what they did for a living now; I’m a historic interpreter. I keep fighting this penchant for landing on the “right answer”, the one that describes order and purpose and makes sense. I’m learning more that the joy of interpreting history is found in saying “we don’t know why”. We’re quirky; isn’t that marvelous? We change, we evolve, we digress, we’re capricious. In many cultures, gods were like that, too. It was acceptable, maybe expected. But in Western theology, that became a bad characteristic for a god, and immutability became important. We want something dependable, something stable, so much that we’re willing to construct it and enshrine it. Why? Because it allows us to stop trying to be responsible in the world? The effort of responding is perhaps a constant drain, and we are lazy by nature? I think of cultures that are resilient, flexible, responsive to the environment, and I think that consistency is maybe not that important or beneficial after all.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1830
What made me think about this? I was looking into Wisconsin history, and the history of the Upper Peninsula, and came across the story of Henry Schoolcraft. His first wife was half Ojibwa and helped him in his scholarship of Native American cultures. His second wife wrote a popular anti-Tom novel in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous book and disapproved of mixed-race unions, thereby alienating her stepchildren completely. Why would the same man be married to both of these women? “I don’t know why.”
Bookshelf at the Raspberry School, Old World Wisconsin
I recognize in myself a tendency to try to put my partner in a box, to figure out the consistent rules that will help me predict his behavior. There aren’t any, really. But he is hardly a sociopath. He simply wants to be allowed to communicate his thoughts and feelings as they arise, to be understood in the moment, known intimately for the authentic and complicated man he is. He is more than willing to talk and reason and explain honestly and even to make promises and act on them in order to gain my trust. Perhaps it is simply my natural laziness that wants to put labels on him and save myself the trouble of paying attention. Truly caring about a person requires great effort. It is hardly efficient. It necessitates all kinds of little adjustments. And that is a valuable process, a craftsmanship of sorts. Which reminds me of this clip my brother-in-law sent me which he titled: Precision East German manufacturing in the workers paradise. I’m not sure if he was trying to be cynical. I think it illustrates a very authentic part of human process.
Really interesting and thought-provoking, Scilla. It makes sense to me.
As a person and a storyteller, I’m sure you have often engaged in the interesting inconsistencies of humans!
Emerson’s quote is one of my all-time favorites. There was nothing that made me crazier when I was working than someone telling me to do something a certain way just because we had to be “consistent.” Grrr…makes me kind of crazy just thinking about it!
I agree! I talk to postal employees who have to endure a lot of that.
A cracking good post Scilla and I love that quote too…. is it because those of us who are not secure in ourselves ( most of us? ) think that consistency gives security? I don’t kbnow the answer to this but I do understand what you are saying about truly caring for a person requiring great effort..
It makes sense that security has something to do with trying to be consistent. Emerson is a great advocate of non-conformity and trusting yourself; he talks about an inner security that has nothing to do with other people. Inspiring, and elusive to me most of the time. I think that women are raised to be far too social and not secure in themselves…myself included, of course.
Indeed it is elusive to me too Scilla.. and agree about the sociable training of women.. too bad!