Thursday, July 31, 2008

Paradox of Self

I've been waxing philosophical lately about what I will coin, "the paradox of self." After a diversity seminar at work a few weeks ago, I realized that there exists a whole new dimension to stereotypes that I had never considered before. Individuals can define themselves by different groups, traits, and beliefs without being the whole of that group. That is obvious. That is the basis of faulty stereotypes and categorizations. The CIA Factbook can't tell you who a person of FILL IN NATIONALITY HERE truly is. I think that type of ridiculous stereotyping is easy to recognize (or at least ought to be).

However, individuals can also define themselves in seemingly opposing terms. Part of the essence of humanity rests within a paradox. Stereotyping is not just assuming that a person fits a bill because of one of their identifiers, but also that they can not identify with other traits on a conditional basis. I can be a religious feminist. A conservative humanitarian. A procrastinator go-getter. An intellectual idiot. An outgoing introvert. A dreamer and a realist. I can be one thing and the exact "opposite." Humans are composed of layers and layers of identities with varying levels of densities.

If people could figure this out, there would be a lot less misunderstanding in the world. Unfortunately, many groups or ideological followers expect fellow identifiers to believe or act the same as them. BUT, here's the news. This type of prejudice, faulty logic, stereotyping is wrong and detrimental to the exploration of human identity in both self and in others. The costs of refusing to recognize paradoxes are great.

It has taken me many years to recognize the paradox within myself and regarding others. I can be two things at once, and nobody can tell me that one part of me invalidates another part. Within all humans exist a paradox; and this paradox is a valid way of expressing and defining one's self, no matter the contradictory social messages that suggests otherwise.


  1. Yes, people in general do have difficult understanding or comprehending paradox. It is a natural trend toward dualism in relation to that. We think in terms of either/or. I am either extroverted or interverted and so on. Many personality tests are founded on dualistic and reductionistic tendencies. It even plays a role within Christianity and understanding of God. Many of the varied theological divisions stem from not being able to grasp paradox. It is either predestination or freewill and have difficulty grasping that with God it can be both.

  2. I think that is great insight!

    People can spend a lifetime trying sort out complex (and simple) concepts of Christianity, without ever realizing that paradoxes exist. Everything must be one thing or another. The predestination vs. freewill is the perfect example. Unfortunately, I'm not sure many people actually stop to acknowledge the idea that a paradox may be the explanation for the mysterious ways of God. This idea never crosses their radar, as most of us are trained to see black or white from the time we are children. David good. Goliath bad. Period.

    Sunday school lessons have simplified the content of the Bible which is very rich and complex. On a side note, I honestly think that children's books and movies are what train us to think that way in our most developmental years. When was the last time a Disney villain had at least one redeemable quality?

    But back to Christianity, I’ve heard people suggest that entire story of the Bible is dualistic and reductionist. Good triumphs over evil in the end. Jesus good. Satan bad. In response to anyone who believes that, I would challenge that they’ve never read the Bible, or considered the true humanity expressed in line after line of the text. Similarly, the Bible exposes the beautiful paradoxes in the nature of God and in the world he has created.