It is very important to develop our personal senses and reactions against contradictions when we see them; they are damaging, and in my life I have lost a lot of relationships to it. Moreover, I grew up in a world of contradictions: Peace organizations receiving funds from the same countries who are causing the war. World leaders who preach safety while causing danger to massive populations. A democratic country that builds walls to segregate its population and prevent people from entering schools, universities, and public buildings. A super being who created me helpless yet is going to judge me for what I do not have control of. People who told me they love me while saying the exact opposite to others. Economic system that preaches equality to everyone yet by its definition one person has to gain the advantage over the other. A definition of success based on working hard yet the farmer sweating 16 hours a day can barely make enough to survive. My early childhood memories are filled with images of people shouting: “with our souls, and blood, we’ll sacrifice our selves for you Sadam”, yet the dictator is obviously stealing money from the population, and is feared by all. As a result, I grew up confused most of the time, maybe even depressed. All my life I grew up in a “comfortable” household compared to those around me in the same geographical location, but my observation of the world and its contradictions have always haunted me. This blog deals with contradictions head on, and share with you few personal stories, solutions, and maybe you can walk away thinking something new.
A simple search of the word contradictions on google would yield a two-paragraph description on importance of philosophy website:
“A contradiction arises when two ideas each make the other impossible. Contradictions don't exist in reality because reality simply is as it is and does not contradict itself. Only our evaluations of reality can contradict each other. If you think you have found a contradiction, then check your premises. Either you're mistaken about it being a contradiction or one of the contradicting concepts has been improperly formed.
If the content of your knowledge contains contradictions, then some of your knowledge is in error. Because in order to be successful in reality one must know reality, success requires correct knowledge. It is therefore important to continually search for and root out contradictions in your knowledge in order to make sure that your knowledge corresponds to reality. The two primary methods for doing this are logic, the art of non-contradictory identification, and integration.” (italics and underlines are my editing)
According to the quote, it is perfectly normal and possible that we have wrong knowledge. What is not normal, is it live by the contradiction as a way of life and defend it as if it is the truth. It is important to be humble and accept that we are wrong, and then correct our knowledge by seeking out truth. This relationship to the truth, our way of life, and ultimately our being is exactly why it is important to understand contradiction.
Here are some personal stories I had with contradictions that have profoundly affected my life and relationships, remember these were important relationships, and these are just examples of many instances in my life, which I am sure all of you have in your respective lives:
1. During my first university year, one of my good friends from university was more involved in his religious institution, he was preaching doing good, being morally correct, and positive social actions. He also happened to have sex with a pregnant single 18-year-old Asian girl, and then left her after the encounter. Of course, I was upset, and I confronted my friend with the story and he confirmed it. Obviously, the story is more complicated, they did have a short dating relationship etc. My problem is the following, my friend continually criticized me for my views on sex, dating, and continually criticized my way of life as being wrong. Moreover, his entire pride, his important role in his religious institution, is based on him following rules such as no sex before marriage, equality between men and women, and respect. When I confronted him about the contradiction, he simply told me: well the Asian girl did not follow my religion, she is not from my group, so it is allowed.
After collecting my jaws from the floor, the next thing I did was terminate our relationship on the spot. There goes a 4 – 5 year relationship with a person I volunteered with, shared happy and sad moments with, and a mountaintop or two. This is an instant where the person contradicted him self to the point of self illusion. He completely was able to express his thoughts with conviction that he was morally correct. He was not able to see the horrible unjust conclusion he has come up simply because he did not have the courage to face his contradiction and correct it.
2. Another friend of mine, worked a lot in his/her life in order to get into university. The friend had a certain disadvantage that made it difficult to go in. After being accepted in the program of his/her dream. My friend lied to the professor about an assignment deadline; he/she used the difficulty they had as a way to trick the professor into extending the deadline. This same friend had constantly told everyone that I was a liar, untruthful, and a coward.
I do not have anything to say to this friend, their opinion about me is their opinion. However, listening to that friend recount their story with the professor with absolute happiness and sense of victory, while at the same time accusing me negatively of the same actions he/she did, is contradicting. The contradiction renders me confused and clueless as to who my friend is. Just what kind of character do they possess, just who exactly is my friend, what is the value of the relationship, is it worth all the time and effort I am putting into it? The answer was no, and over the course of a long exhausting period, I finally came to the conclusion that the contradictions became so much that I lost track of who I am dealing with. Therefore, termination of relationship.
3. In University, I was part of a political club advocating for human rights for a certain group of people. I was also on the board of directors and we held weekly meetings. The club had majority of people from a certain geographical location and some who were more diverse.
One night, after the diverse people have left the meeting, all the people who shared the same background agreed that they wish death and destruction to their enemy. Now, when you read the club’s political statement, it is advocating human rights for everyone, it brings in speakers to advocate peace and love. It seemed obvious that this political image was a facade and the directors were contradicting them selves. Again, my problem is that they were not honest about it. If they did not contradict them selves, I would have made better judgements about who to associate my self with, and how to spend my time. Of course, if they did reveal what was in their heart, then no one would fund them etc.
Let’s steer our direction to a subtle difference between internal contradiction within our selves, and exterior contradiction which affects the people around us. My examples include instances where others contradictions have inflicted me negatively; these are exterior contradictions because they originated in subject A and affected subject B.
However, I think it is perfectly possible to be going through a phase of “interior” contradiction. This happens all the time when we grow. Music lessons are direct example of the growth process: we possess an old technique, as we practice a new better way of playing the same technique, sometimes we stress and revert back to the old way of playing. This is an instance of contradiction. I will use the same logic in the following example:
I used to lie all the time when I was a kid, I was very good at it and it got me what I wanted most of the time. However, I knew that this was not the kind of person I wanted to be growing up. I knew something was morally corrupt. Five years ago I entered a soul searching phase and major changes were happening in my life. This was the pretext to reading the book Lying by same Harris, as a result of this book. I reduced my lying habit significantly to almost negligible now if none existent. Now, in the process of becoming more truthful, I surely lied, and accepted lies, and had relationships with those who lie. But this is not a “core” contradiction. It is a situation based contradiction. As I acquire new ways of thinking, its perfectly possible to still possess some of the old ways simply by logic of gradual transition. Music/dance student who had to read about muscle memory would understand what I am talking about.
If we understand the examples I mentioned, it might help us decide which relationships to keep and which relationships to let go of. I have met a lot of people who say things I do not agree with, but through time and honest discussion, I realized these people were going through a growing phase and in the process of defining their ideologies. This is not a contradiction and it is more than a pleasure to have these people in my life. On the other hand, I met some people who while also were growing, their core did not show honest desire for seeking the truth, and the contradictions grew even more making it impossible to maintain the relationship. In fact, these people could not grow in a satisfying manner and through their actions, it is easy to see that they are lost and miserable. Side note: these people are not evil or morally corrupt, but they lacked the honesty and humbleness to grow seeking the truth. They were trapped by social judgements, personal revenge, agendas, and incompatible dreams with no way to reach them, frustration upon depression in an environment that does not encourage truth. It is sad, but If they do not accept help, then I do not see it as my responsibility to make their life better.
Two years ago, my friend (let’s call him my Friend X) and I had a debate about contradictions: are they good or bad. My position was to try to avoid contradicting myself as much as possible, to present myself in a consistent matter for others and to myself in order to keep a coherent image of me. In other words, my information, arguments, and derived conclusions affecting the way I live had to be related to each other by following the same logic. As I have demonstrated in the previous examples, contradictions can cause confusion, waste of time and effort, sometimes it can lead to emotional distress, but also it is a reflection of my distance from the truth. By truth, I do not mean absolute knowledge, I mean accurate representation of who I am at the moment of speaking.
My friend’s position was that we all contradict the way we live so why care? For example, I could be a person of justice, environmentally friendly, and love every being on the planet. How can I avoid contradictions while living in a civilized society with cars and buildings, accepting unjust economic and social systems, and eat meat!?
It is important to notice that this kind of argument is based on the conflict between the self and the environment it finds it self in. There is no conciliation between the two therefore contradictions are necessary and we should not avoid them since we can not.
I read once (I cannot remember for the life of me where and who) in an article the author having similar position against an argument of the same type. However, it was in regards to living a normal life while preaching helping less privileged people. The speaker left an impact on me by being very convincing in his truthfulness and honesty. He said something along the lines of I want to help people, I do help people, I want to advocate for different ways of helping them, But I am also aware of my being and I am aware of my duty to my body, family, and health. As a result, he has no problem logically speaking in being “selfish” in seeking personal happiness, while preaching for helping others fully aware that the world has a lot of suffering.
We have different levels of awareness of our bodies existing in four dimensions as well as the identity existing in social contexts (a baby not aware his hands are his hands, few years later he is fully aware his hands obey him, a year later he realizes it is him in the mirror). The point is, we grow up creating different layers of awareness of our social life, the first being ourselves, the second is our families, third is our friends, etc etc (these are just examples, they are not necessarily true for everyone). I believe the same logic can be applied to the conflict between self and environment: just because the environment contradicts my being it does not mean I cease to exist in order to not contradict. There has to be an admission of the difference of sizes here: the environment is simply too big and too challenging for me as an individual to oppose it in every way that makes my life unbearable. I can however, find compromises: live in a city, but take public transportation whenever possible, or rather maximize a life style that allows less usage of cars. Eat meat once a week rather than everyday, think of a chore cycle that reduces waste of water, etc etc.
The answer I provided might seem weak to the pure logician or philosopher (such as my friend X); it is not my interest to find a logical correct answer. My interest is to find a humanistic and truthful answer to the problem of contradiction in real life terminology that I can use in my every day life. Coming from this angle, I can happily say I am aware that I am making contradictions by accepting my life. I understand too that these are factors I cannot control, the environment I am placed in, the choices other people make that I have to follow (such as laws, what types of foods the store brings in, etc).
What I am more concerned with are the contradictions that are proportionate to your ability to control them. For example, what you say VS how you treat others, or your treatment to different logical social situations.
Now, why is this important? It is important to me because in my life, I met several people who contradicted them selves to extreme points that their image became blurry. The amount of lying exceeded what I would usually tolerate resulting in termination of relationships. The problem is that these relationships take a long time to formulate, and when they break they hurt and cause all sort of internal/external problems. When the person is not lying, it is still hard for me to understand the person due to contradictions: the religious person who spends his nights doing things his/her religion forbids them to do. The person who seeks adventure and thrill yet hides behind a wall of lies at every turn of the road, and more. In dealing with these people, it is hard for me to know who I am dealing with, how I can help, and sometime it backfires on me. This is one reason why I avoid contradicting my self, I want to avoid my friends having to deal with “contradicting me” and have a clear idea of who Mustafa is.
Second reason is my career as an artist. I want to be as honest and as clear as I can when delivering my art to people. I want to share my thoughts on topics and ideas, I do not want to mislead people whether it is intentional or intentional. Music is a pure art form in my opinion, the sonic information is deprived of contradictions and I believe a person who is in tune with such a principle can deliver music with much more appreciation and beauty.
Third reason, it is the credibility of the speaker. This can affect politics, education, religion, and all aspects of life. If you believe in a certain religion and notice there are contradictions (religion ZUMBA LUMBA says earth is flat, but you know it is NOT flat), then it is your job to decide whether to follow it or not, and this says a lot about who you are as a person. If you are a geologist and believe the earth is flat, I wouldn’t care one bit about what you have to say about anything because you lose your credibility.
So to sum up what has been said, contradictions blur the image when dealing with people. It diminishes the credibility of the person and blocks the channels for honest, fruitful development of a relationship (with others or with your self).
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that I grew up confused and depressed due to my child self noticing contradictions in the world. Through my life Journey I was able to find solutions to contradictions through Music and Nature.
As a child, I was attached to classical music from an early point. I constantly thought about it through immigrating twice in my life, and having to resettle all the time with people of all backgrounds, different political and economic conditions. Music was the only constant besides my core self and my family members (though they were changing and still changing).
One aspect of enjoying music and art in general, is through the sense of harmony inherited within its structure, history, and performance. This is not to say that music is perfect (though I deeply believe it is), but the experience of it is the closest I can get to perfection. The sonic realization of a notated score or abstract orally transmitted idea had always fascinated me. How is to possible to reach an expression so natural and so honest, clear from any contradictions. the possibility of capturing an idea and putting it to sounds had always stricken me as more pure than words and other forms of sensory expressions.
As performers, we spend a good deal of time thinking about how to make our performance of a piece clear of contradictions whenever possible; I have to change my fingerings to make sure the melody stays on a certain string to maintain tone and unity. If I am playing a sequence, then how I am going to phrase it so the slur would fall on the same beat in the sequence to maintain harmony and fluidity. What is the purpose of the piece and how does it speak to me, and where do I play louder or softer to achieve what my imagination is striving for? Questions like these justify the long hours we spend on the instrument achieving those targets, and thinking continuously about metaphysical ideas. Subconsciously however, there is an image of us dressed up as warriors fighting minions of contradiction. If you manage to survive the battle for as long as I have, it is surely to change your core and the way you react to others. Thus, your relationship with contradiction wouldn’t be as forgiving as my Friend X’s opinion.
The other place where I found harmony and coherence is the Canadian Rockies. The harmony is achieved by the summation of small actions examined as a collective whole: Planning the route, calling friends, waking up early, dressing up and packing the proper gear for the relative mountain, driving to it, grabbing breakfast in cold chilling mornings, stretching in the parking lot, the long trudge up tree lines, that moment when you finally see the summit which encourages you to trudge for another three hours, the feeling you get just before the summit, the summit, the smiles, the laughter, the tiredness, and eventually the long way home thinking about your day.
I found peace and harmony in the assurance that the mountain will always be there. Through steady pulse and breathing, I can climb any mountain I want (video of mountain Stephen is my highest achievement so far). Nature provided me with a link to connect to it, to feel it, and maybe return to it. We are natural beings on earth who live in a very unnatural world, our birth is the first act of contradiction we commit, and nature is a way to help us return to harmony.
To wrap up, I can already hear people telling me I shouldn't have terminated my relationships, it is too extreme and I should have given second chances. In all instances, I did give second chance, and in my environment where I have to practice and grow at a fast pace, wasting time over relationships that are not going anywhere is not something I can afford. my views can be extreme, but they are my views. your discussion might help me change them, and my life will surely guide them in directions I do not yet know.
I hope I was successful in making you remember instances of contradictions in your life, what did you do back then? How did you feel? How do you feel now? Where in your life do you see harmony and peace, and where do you notice contradictions? I hope this encourages you to participate in a discussion with me or your friends.
These are short comments I post as I navigate through waters.