12.11.18 - "I Know That I Know Nothing.”
Dear Sweet Babe,
Today I want to talk to you about duality
Duality is a rather polarizing topic (get it…duality…polarizing…twos…hehehehe). Some people see duality as a wholly negative thing. They think that everything and everyone should show their one true self at all times, and that to show duality is to show a certain dishonesty. This is how we get people referring to others as “two-faced” or, less-commonly and more-directly, as “duplicitous.” The general fear behind this view of duality is if we can’t know someone’s stance on anything and everything, how can we trust them?
Now, another way of viewing duality (and my personal favorite) is the concept of paradox. A paradox is any person, thing, or concept that possesses elements or traits that are seemingly contradictory. Some of life’s paradoxes are fairly clean-cut and apparent, like Hamlet’s “I must be cruel to be kind, or Orwell’s “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” But others are much more complex.
For example, there is a philosophical and cultural paradox presented in the beauty of the darkness. Darkness, with regards to humanities fear of the unknown and colonialism’s racism, has been adapted by the majority as a scary, bad, and evil thing. People will often refer to someone as being “black of heart” in regards to someone’s badness, “wandering in the darkness” in regards to being ignorant, or a situation being “darkest before the dawn” in regards to the difficulty of a situation before it’s resolution. These common phrases are indicative of the negative view of darkness/blackness.
So, to acknowledge the beauty of such a culturally accepted negative thing is a form of psychological paradox. How can what is bad be beautiful?
That is the wonderful thing about paradoxes. Through paradox we can perceive the world with more complexity, and, perhaps, greater truth. By understanding paradox we can understand how very often what we fear and what we initially perceive to be bad may require greater analysis. There may be a contradictory element of beauty, or goodness, or positivity within something or someone we may have written off. To view others as paradoxes allows us to view our fellow human beings with the complexity and respect they deserve.
But, there is a trip up to viewing the paradoxes of the world: understanding and expressing the paradoxes you possess.
Have you ever thought something was so cute that you felt a desire to harm it? Have you ever willingly participated in a behavior that you know is self-destructive? Have you felt left out of a group that you clearly belong to? We all have many paradoxes that live within us, but, for example’s sake, I will use one that exists within me: the cultural paradox of physicality and intellectualism.
Now, in general, when people think of intellectuals, they imagine ungainly, bespectacled, weaklings who can prove why E=mc2, but who couldn’t run a mile or throw a football to save their lives. Vice versa, many think of people who possess physical prowess to be completely stone-headed and simple. The idea is that intellect contradicts physicality.
Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of hurt. When we’re younger and we’re first learning how to interact with others, it is easy to believe that our perceptions of the world and other others are more true than a complex and contradictory reality. It’s really simple to believe that nerds can’t lift weights, and football players can’t do math, and pretty girls are stupid, and male dancers are gay, and people of color are (insert racist stereotype), and trans people are (insert transphobic stereotype), and…and…and…but, that doesn’t mean our pre-conceptions about people are correct.
So, often, people who have acknowledged their paradoxical nature have to face disparagement for their duality. Whether it be from people who believe all duality is wrong, or people from both of their conflicting groups feeling that, since they couldn’t express their own paradoxes in the past, they now have to enforce such a constraint on others.
Going back to my example: what happens when some of the dancers in your life, who haven’t been encouraged to be intellectual, view your intellectualism as threatening? What happens when the intellectuals in your life view your physical prowess as a sure sign of your ignorance? How isolating would it be when you have to choose between living with your duality, or fitting in by deny a part of yourself?
Well, dear sweet babe, that’s why I wanted to write this to you. If ever you are feeling conflicted with how others are treating your duality, or are feeling uneasy with another’s, please remember this phenomenal paradox from Socrates: I know that I know nothing. If you’re feeling upset by how someone is treating you, remember that they clearly don’t know how great your duplicity can be. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with someone else’s duplicity, remember that you do not know everything, and it’s probably what you don’t know that is making uncomfortable, not another’s duplicity.
All in all, it is up to you, your right and duty, to understand your own duplicity and to learn about others’.
So, sweet babe, what are your paradoxes?