In a conversation about the recent global climate march, somebody a friend of mine suggested that participation amounts to a foul contradiction – for most of us, anyway. And indeed, I for one had taken a flight during the summer holidays. I had also recently indulged in red meat consumption. Suffice to say, he does have a point.
But because he’d said it, I wanted to justify my own position. If not to him, then to myself. And this got me thinking.
Far from being a superfluous foible, contradiction forms a crucial part of our survival as sentient beings. Our ability to compartmentalise is exactly what helps us cope in our ongoing struggle to create a sense of internal unity. Because to live peacefully with ourselves, we must make sense of things by rationalising our contradictory behaviours.
The adage “do as I say, not what I do” is the classic allusion to this fact. The things we say are often diametrically opposed to the things that we end up doing. It’s just how humans are wired. A kind of self-preserving mechanism which also enables us to see ourselves as we desire to be seen – at least, to our own minds.
In his book, The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr delves into the psychology behind why humans like stories. He dedicates a whole chapter to the idea of the flawed self, in which he discusses that our own realities are nothing like actual reality. Effectively, we create our own realities to appease ourselves and smooth over our contradictions. Or else, quite frankly, we’d go mad. Good fiction recognises this premise in order to make characters feel real and to replicate the tension inherent in our daily lives.
Which makes me feel that seeing contradictions in others is a weak rationalisation for our own inertia, or lack of inspiration. In the case of the climate march, I feel despondent about the impact of my own individual actions. Which is why I chose to rally in favour of centralised action. That, and to be able to look my kids in the eye, if I’m being totally honest.
With hindsight, this piece was simply self-rationalisation of my own actions. An effort to make sense of my own contradictions. To swerve that feeling of inadequacy. [Reaches for plastic water bottle and takes a sip]. I am, after all, only human.
Keith Lewis is a freelance copywriter based in Brighton.