Do we contradict ourselves? Yes, we contain multitudes…

Running black wolf

Running black wolf

I’ve heard it said:  the human brain prefers to quickly take in information and make broad assessments.  When we’re chased by a tiger through the jungle, we’d better make a split-second judgment that the beast is dangerous and run, run, run.  No time to contemplate the tiger’s possible sweet friendly nature.  No time to ponder its hungry babies in the den.  No time to philosophize about our tiger’s intentions, his inclinations, his growling stomach, his territorial nature.  Run, sister, run!

Parts of our brain, some scientists say, are hard-wired to process like this.  Take a pile of thoughts and condense them to the most logical conclusion.  Get your information from your most trustworthy sources and decide.

In this methodology our brains scan through dozens or hundreds of details and thoughts, rejecting or ignoring those that don’t fit the preferred or necessary interpretation and we make our assessment on “what feels right” or “what seems right” or “what we think is best”.  If it’s the limbic brain—we just run.



We decide if we’re Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, for this or against that.  We decide if so-and-so is good or bad.  Does this politician fit our values?  Is this media source trustworthy? We often act like a computer software program constantly interpreting the world from our values, condensing information into definitive beliefs and opinions.

The problem with this approach, in my opinion (smile) is that Life actually often appears in shades of gray.  Or, in another expression, life appears as a rainbow with many different colors.  A trillion variations exist!  A trillion nuanced expressions.

Even in a single individual—though we often like to think of ourselves as undivided and integral—we’re actually filled with a multitude of thoughts and beliefs.  We’ll say, “A part of me thinks this” and “A part of me thinks that”.   Walt Whitman said it best: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”



I am constantly amazed of the multitudes of seemingly conflicting viewpoints held by friends and family.  Just when I think I’ve figured out so-and-so she comes up with another side that I’ve yet to meet.  I can agree and love Sides A, B and C.  But, ohmygosh, Side D!  How can I reconcile Side D and still be friends?

So there’s a multitude of sides to ourselves, and a multitude of sides to our loved ones.  I also believe in multiplicity in institutions and governments.  It’s not like there’s a broad stroke of evil painted on, say, every aspect of corporations.  Corporations are filled with our daughters and sons trying to do the best possible job.  Corporations are filled with certain individuals trying to maximize profits.  Corporations contain people lying, cheating and back-stabbing.  Corporations contain people loving, hoping to benefit humanity, trying to do their best jobs.  Corporations contain bosses at the top keeping capitalism and the dollar front and center and making limited myopic decisions.  And corporations contain grandpas surveying the kingdom with the wisdom of an all-seeing eye.

Collage 2

Take the media.  Our brains love to paint the media into broad categories of “good” and “bad”.  Yet I see the same thing in our media as in corporations.  (Full confession:  I was trained as a journalist and am married to one.)  Mostly I see the media as individuals trying to do a damn good job of reporting truth to the best of their ability.  But it’s also a multiplicity.  There are reporters and editors that skew headlines to gain readership.  There are reporters and editors who try diligently to balance headlines and editorials.  Some media sources, just like the individuals, attempt to report their point of view at the detriment of yours.  Some media sources work day and night to write stories that express their heart’s truth.  The editorial page might be filled with slanted political opinions, but the letters-to-the-editor allow others to share their own opinions.  The papers and TV and radio programs can be brim-full of features and human-interest stories that highlight individual after individual.  Does the media only report an official view?  Some do.  Others don’t.  Some do sometimes, and others never do. The media is a rainbow offering from positive to negative and everything in between, and yet our brains often want to crunch this into something simplistic, something definitive, something undeniably true.

Take politicians.  Our brains want to lump them all in one category:  good or bad.  Either they’re working for me or against me.   Congress is doing its job; Congress is failing.  The president is an idiot or a damn good guy.   Yet, once again, most things contain multiplicities.  As a former politician (tee hee:  32 years as a township treasurer in one of the smallest townships in the country) I noticed again and again that it’s not all simple.  I saw people trying their hardest to make good decisions.  I saw the same folks making decisions based on personal power or personal opinion that felt skewed and limited. Sometimes that one was me.  I saw politicians with hearts of gold and politicians with questionable motives.  All mixed up in beautiful fallible human skin.

Some of the old-timers think the new-comers are trespassing, just by living here.

Forgive us our trespasses

Take individual rights versus society as a whole.  The brain often wants to leap on the bandwagon:  Individual rights versus “they’re telling me what to do”.  Me versus them.  Me versus us.  But I see it as a dance.  We need both.  Sometimes we need to think in terms of “we”.  Other times we’re advocating for “me”.  Sometimes the “we” takes precedent; sometimes the “me” goes forefront.  Sometimes this happens many times during a single day.  A mother knows this.  One minute she’s protecting her flock; the next minute she’s plotting for five minutes of downtime.  Sometimes a parent is suspect:  should we believe they really want to protect the “we” of the family?  Maybe she’s mentally ill or emotionally spent.  A child learns perhaps that authority must be questioned.  Maybe she’s correct in her assessment.  Shades of right and wrong here.  Shades that can’t be painted with a broad stroke.  If we become unbalanced on either side of the polarity we’ll often suffer.

We want so badly to have an opinion, a “true” opinion.  Perhaps an opinion is arising now about this article.  It’s completely wrong (is it completely?)  There are times to have an opinion, right or wrong.  (Yes, I agree.)  Our brains are not hard-wired to think like this. (OK, maybe you’re right, but I’ve seen my own brain working like this.)  Some things are wrong and we need to take action.  (Yes, totally concur.) Corporations, media, and politicians are evil and corrupt.  (OK, you’ve missed my point, move on, dear one.)


What is my point?  To notice the brain’s tendency to often reduce things to a single variable, to a single viewpoint.  To notice again and again and again what we’re filtering out of the equation in order to support our theories.  To take note when something’s painted in black and white. To perhaps notice that having a definitive opinion feels less scary than really not knowing what’s going on. Can we ever know what’s really going on?

The solution?  To flesh out this tendency by seeing more, noticing more.  To think outside the box, without deriding the inside of the box.  Both are necessary to make a box.  To see the world in both/and terms rather than either/or.  (Although sometimes either/or feels the most appropriate.)  To sometimes view the world as a wide-open question instead of a snapped-close answer. To act from the widest possible view that’s possible in this moment.

By the shores of Lake Superior

Widest possible view


About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in May, 2020 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Do we contradict ourselves? Yes, we contain multitudes…

  1. timalanmi says:

    Wow.. very well said .. could not agree more with you .. Thanks for blogging again .. have missed your posts, good to see them again. Be well !!

  2. Stacy says:

    Yes! We do need an inside and an outside to make a box! Love that, and the article. XOXO

  3. Carol says:

    It’s those shades of gray, those rainbows of colors, that complicate issues. I sometimes think it would be so much easier to see the world in black and white – and I have a friend who does. Yet, it’s the very fact that she does that so annoys me. A lot of food for thought in this post, Kathy.

    • Kathy says:

      Carol, you are not the first person who has said that (or, ha ha, maybe YOU said it years ago and I remembered it!) I just watch my brain processing some things in black and white. And then realizing, for the hundredth time, that it’s shades of gray. This post was written in response to a loved one who recently kept texting black and white thoughts. I needed to sit down and explore this topic; thus, the article here. I am glad it is giving you food for thought. Me too.

  4. Well said, and it’d wonderful to have your thoughtful voice out there!

    • Kathy says:

      Cindy, it was a struggle for me to put this into words in some cohesive way. Maybe I was just trying to explain it to myself–and whoever else resonated, that’s good. Thank you for reading! (It is so long…)

  5. Susan D. Durham says:

    Hear! Hear! Powerful piece, Lady. So much to learn and so much to strive for here. Thank you!

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Susan Dee, for being my guinea pig (??? I hope that’s not an insult!) and reading this the other week and encouraging its publication. So much to strive for here, indeed. For all of us. Peppered with endless mercy for the ways we see in black & white.

  6. Whitman’s “I contain multitudes” poem is one of my favorites, and when I “discovered” it when in college, I thought, “FINALLY, someone who thinks like me!” 🙂 I just had to go back to the past to reach my future. I agree with everything you say here, Kathy, NO Exceptions. Except, of course, the world is full of exceptions, and that’s why there is no “right” answer to most things. I think the best way for us to show our intelligence is to listen to each person’s point of view and try and understand it. Learn from it. And never decide everything they say is wrong and everything we say is right. The world is a rainbow, never just one single colors. xo

    • Kathy says:

      You mean you, me and Whitman all think the same way? Ha ha, love it! I also love your “no exceptions” and “the world is full of exceptions” because it feels like the “answer” lies somewhere in that paradox. Perhaps just listening and trying to understand. Sometimes that feels scary because people can defend their opinions so strongly (especially in these times, but maybe in all times). Thank you for reading and sharing of yourself, Rainbow Lady!

  7. dawnkinster says:

    This is an excellent post, and needed lately. It’s so easy to get swept up in one side or the other of so many issues. We live in a complicated time and decisions don’t come easily if you listen to everything. You can’t take the easy way out and just go with what you see or hear first. There are so many layers to work through before a person can made a truly sound decision. And even then it might need to be reevaluated as things change.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Dawn. I know what you mean about it’s easy to get swept up in a fervor on one side of an issue. Have actually been struggling a lot the past couple of days with one such issue. It’s one thing to try and keep the largest possible picture in mind, it’s hard sometimes to live it.

  8. sherrysescape says:

    I love the way you look at things from as many viewpoints as possible and remind us that people are filled with complexities. Thank-you, my friend.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Sherry. I do try to look at the large picture a lot and hope that others can remember that issues are complex, as well. But sometimes (like the last couple of days) I do not completely succeed. Sometimes emotions hold sway…

  9. We certainly are filled with a multitude of thoughts and beliefs! It’s so sad that we all can’t try harder to listen to each other respectfully and to express ourselves without vitriol. I like reading the letters to the editor in our local newspaper because it is enlightening to see how people think and I admit, there are times when the so-called other side makes some good points. It shouldn’t be all or nothing! I’m definitely on the liberal side of the spectrum but we have enough conservative leaning relatives to keep us on our toes!

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, it is those conservative leaning relatives that keep me on my toes, for sure! My own mind keeps me on my toes at times as it tries to reduce things to a simplistic viewpoint. Then the larger viewpoint becomes clear again. A back and forth. It’s been a rough couple of days for me here, and have signed off Facebook for the long Memorial Day weekend to help regain some sense of balance and well-being.

  10. Lori says:

    Having grown up in a political home, I’ve definitely seen all the multitude of sides you’re speaking of. I could tell some stories, that’s for sure (my dad held local offices similar to yours, he ran campaigns for State Reps and the Governor, and he was the Chief of Staff for a now deceased well-known congressman).

    Funny you should mention my post with the title, “Freaks,” as I just drafted a similar blog post to this one you just posted. Mine is about critical thinking. I was going to post that one yesterday (I usually post on Tuesdays), but decided that my readers might want a break from the tense topic, so I did something light. I’ll probably post it next Tuesday, but I’ll let the Universe guide me. As you know, sometimes the time is just not right, sometimes it’s perfect timing, and on occasion, it’s never time, and a drafted post gets trashed. 🤷‍♀️

    Thank you for sharing about the complexity to all topics, all ideas, all values and all of humanity.

    • Kathy says:

      How interesting about your dad, Lori. And of course about our synchronistic topics! And I also know about the timing of blogs. Sigh, have watched many a post turn in a different direction than the intended one. Will look to see if/when your critical thinking one gets its day. It’s also interesting how we can feel so passionate about some topics, but not everyone feels the same. This post burst forth from the depths of me, but (so far) hasn’t had a lot of readership. Darn it. I want everyone to think inside/outside the box simultaneously. Tee hee. Just kiddin’. Sort of. 🙂

  11. Ally Bean says:

    I wrote a blog post recently in which I stated that one of my intentions during this stay-at-home time in history is to have no opinions about how other people are behaving, short of spreading disease. I did well in April with my intention, but am finding it more difficult to do this month. I realize that there is complexity going on around me, I’m primed by nature and education to see all this going on and ask why. However I’ve found that it is difficult to sit back and watch people go through their paces. Like you said, everyone wants to be the authentic voice of whatever it is that they believe they know for sure. 🙄

    • Kathy says:

      Ally Bean, I get it! And I get how we can have one opinion one moment (like not having any opinion about how others are behaving) and then a month later another opinion arises (such as difficulties watching people go through their paces). My big opinion here is that we should all try to look at the largest possible view. However, in the past couple of days have been swept into an emotional storm where that’s not possible. Sigh. Maybe it’s just that some of our authentic voices keep changing? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  12. I like this post very much. Yes, everyone should think outside the box but many folks don’t possess the insight to think outside the box. Schools should teach critical thinking and how to dissect a belief or a problem of what ever. Unfortunately someone will come along accuse the schools of trying to influence a child’s belief system, etc.. And the list goes on. Not everyone, as you know will attend college and even if they do or did, most minds are already made up at a fairly young age but maybe they are not. I have often wondered what put me on my path of being a liberal.

    • Kathy says:

      Good morning, Yvonne. Thanks for reading. It was a rather long piece. I think I scared off quite a few readers with the topic. 🙂 it would be interesting if there were classes in critical thinking, but I get your point why that might prove challenging. Wondering if your parents were liberal or conservative? My own were quite conservative, but I headed off in a different direction. My dad always said I would “see the light” someday. That hasn’t happened yet. Smile.

      • My folks were liberal but I have always been a free thinker and not one to follow what is popular or the in thing. I believe in compassion and equality and helping of one’s fellow man. I believe in trying to save the planet and not to exploit natural resources and to save more prime habitat, among other things for the good of mankind and for all people- poor or rich. Just makes common sense to me what party to follow.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s