The Fetish of Consistency

jd hancock

“One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Too often we hang on to our beliefs and decisions far beyond when they have stopped serving us, and we do it out of a misguided notion that it’s honorable to hold the same belief for a long period of time.

Gandhi called it the “fetish of consistency”1 and had this to say about it when confronted with his own tendency to change his mind.

My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment.

What a deep practice it is to examine the truth in every moment.

It demands that we completely let go of our past, let go of what we’ve thought, or said, and be in an intimate relationship with the truth of this moment.

It’s no wonder we avoid doing this, it’s extremely hard. It’s much easier to maintain an old belief and use our confirmation bias to collect evidence for why that’s still true.

So why do we fetishize and celebrate consistency? Is there virtue in it, or is it just a cultural habit?

It seems that what we hope to celebrate when we speak of consistency is not necessarily one’s ability to hold on to their opinions, but rather their ability to not waiver in the face of pleasing others.

For example, think of someone for whom you admire their consistency. Maybe it’s a politician, maybe an activist, or maybe a thought leader in your community. Consider the fact that what you admire about this person is not their consistency, but the courage it takes to follow their values, even when it’s unpopular or uncomfortable.

This is what I believe Gandhi was hoping to address when he pointed out that we have mistakenly placed consistency on a pedestal. Consistency is not the value we should celebrate, rather we should seek to find more useful values such as authenticity and courage.

I Contain Multitudes

I’ve always loved the famous quote from Walt Whitman, who wrote this phrase in “Song of Myself”2

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

 That’s what I hope for this blog. I hope it contradicts itself over and over, until the reader is left with nothing to do but draw their own conclusions.

How strange it would be of me to hold to a set of beliefs so dear that I would have to constantly try and defend them. What would be the good in that? Not only would it prevent the chance that my readers would grow with me, but I would certainly get bored and quit.

What allows me to keep writing week after week is the fact that I can show up as my authentic self, and my only requirement is put words on a page. Do I write about certain subjects more than others? Could someone point to trends in my thinking? Yes, but that trend happens after the fact, it’s not an intention.

In place of consistency as a value, I’ve chosen to see the ability to hold multiple perspectives as something I strive for.

In my experience, that improves my quality of life because it moves me closer to connection and compassion for other humans. It stretches my mind and keeps me from the all-too-familiar habit of needing to be right.

Imagine how pleasant a world we would live in if each of us examined the truth in each moment, instead of constantly defending the beliefs that prop up our flimsy notion of identity.

Imagine how much more time we could spend being curious, if we weren’t afraid of someone poking holes in our rigidly held opinions.

Imagine how free we would feel if we never needed to be right.


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Footnotes

  1. http://www.mkgandhi.org/momgandhi/chap07.htm
  2. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/whitman/song.htm