Today is October 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you contradict yourself?” In the 51 section of his poem “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman wrote one of the most famous lines in literary history “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Like many works of art, the poem itself has an interesting history. The poem was first published without sections as the first of twelve untitled poems in the first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass. The first edition was published by Whitman at his own expense.
In the second (1856) edition, Whitman used the title "Poem of Walt Whitman, an American," which was shortened to "Walt Whitman" for the third (1860) edition. The poem was divided into fifty-two numbered sections for the fourth (1867) edition and finally took on the title "Song of Myself" in the last edition (1891–2). The number of sections is generally thought to mirror the number of weeks in the year.
Here is the entire Section 51:
“The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?”
In this penultimate section of “Song of Myself” Whitman expresses the idea that a cultivation through self-awareness and openness is required to blend the understandings of the past and present with the yet undefined future; even if that means the reliance on a contradiction.
As one critic noted “In the first two lines, Whitman symbolized the past and present as wilt plant and book pages that are emptied and fold over. The once vital and fulfilling elements of life have emptied and proceed to fill the future. Whitman then images the future as ‘sidle of evening’ and ‘door-slab’, which present the tranquility in the merge of presence and future, the ease of the unknown encounters.”
Whiteman then brings up the famous lines “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Although Whitman uses “I” in the poem Song of Myself, he is speaking in the presence of the majority. We experience the constant changes, new people, new technology, new ideas, new objects regularly brought us to new experiences, in those, we might find conflicts and discrepancy within ourselves. However, opposing to the consistency that society has taught us to be, Whitman says it is okay to contradict the past and the present to welcome the future.
In his Inc. article "When Contradicting Yourself Actually Leads to Remarkable Personal Growth, Peter Economy suggests individuals give themselves opportunities to reshape their thinking, life, and direction by engaging in contradictions. Contradicting yourself, according to Economy, leads to solutions and allows you to show progress.
Contradicting yourself leads to solutions: Because your mindset will not be fixed or seriously limited, how you view others, life, and the world will change. As a result, you will be able to draw connections between viewpoints that clash, learning from opposite sides and all angles. Gaining the ability to seriously consider and understand different perspectives can help you ease intense emotions in any given situation or help you resolve conflicts. Being comfortable in a space of contradictions means being comfortable in a space where compromise can be reached.
Contradicting yourself shows progress: Life can be a long, winding journey full of changes and lessons. So, don't be surprised if the experiences you go through nudge you to rearrange previously-held thought patterns and conclusions. Upholding firm convictions can be a good thing, but if you are too afraid to be "wrong" or not keen on ever contradicting your most strongly-held beliefs, your search for truth will not be a fruitful one.
How often do you contradict yourself?