From time to time, the most rational and serious and wise thing we can do is to embrace the silly and the seemingly contradictory in our personalities.
We all adapt to get through our days in a changing world. But the mental states we need to succeed in some situations can be different than the ones that are life-giving elsewhere. And we’re not always the best at making those distinctions.
At work I sometimes put on a psychological suit of armor. I become serious and full of piss and vinegar. That ferocity helps me stand up against the challenges that come my way in work. But that ruthless focus is not all of who I am. And if I can’t put my fight in context, I’ll stay in fight mode and miss so much of the beauty of the world around me.
If I want to stay balanced (and psychologically healthy), I have to do something to take off my armor and drop the act.
So, at least this last Monday, my way of doing that was listening to (and yes, singing along to) Spotify’s This Is: Taylor Swift playlist all the way home. It’s very hard to take yourself or the world as a grim, serious thing for too long if you’re listening to 22.
“You don’t know about me, but I bet you want to.”
After a long day of slogging through hard choices, my situation became lighter. I grinned at the world instead of frowning at it, and I laughed a little inside at the amount of weight I put onto my stressful situations.
Swift’s music comes from an exuberant, youthful, naive place so hilariously opposite to the persona I can find myself in at work. It’s the last thing I would expect myself to be listening to after a long Monday, and its the last thing most of my work contacts would expect me to be listening too, either. And that’s what makes it so great.
If I want to get out of my fighting mindset, I have to do something which the fighting part of myself won’t expect. I have to do something to remind myself that I’m not just “serious James,” and that the world is made of far more than just those few situations where “serious James” needs to show up.
So I “contradict” myself for the express purpose of building myself back up into the kind of person I want to be.
In the words of poet Wendell Berry:
“As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.”
– Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, by Wendell Berry
Those “more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction,” can look different for everyone and for most situations. But that frequently looks like something absurd, like listening to pop music made for teenage girls.
Let’s go contradict ourselves. It’s good for us.