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How often do you contradict yourself?

Today is October 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you contradict yourself?” The artist Marcel Duchamp observed, “I have forced myself to contradict myself, in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” Those who navigate the chaos of life and translate dreams into reality understand the necessity of contradicting themselves from time to time, especially if doing so involves personal growth.

In section 51 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 folded 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.”

Whitman 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 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.

  • How often do you contradict yourself?

  • When you do contradict yourself, do you understand why you are doing so?

  • Do you allow others to contradict themselves?

  • How often do you criticize others when they contradict themselves?

  • How often do you remind yourself that contradicting yourself is part of being human?

  • Do you surround yourself with people who allow you to contradict yourself?

  • How often do you remind yourself that contradiction is an opportunity to grow and nurture your self-awareness?


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