Posted by: Martin | March 8, 2010

Hobgoblins

Watching the Oscar’s yesterday, I saw British actor  actor Colin Firth out of the blue saying the quote I have on the  “about” page,  answering a question about why he has played a somewhat different character in his latest movie compared to previous movies:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I saw this quote on some site somewhere I can’t recall, and found it great, but I haven’t seen it since. A google search gives that it’s attributed to the American writer/poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that the full quote is “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Along the same lines Oscar Wilde is quoted to have said:

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Many people seem to always do the same and never contemplate other options, both when it comes to trivial matters such breakfast cereals, and less trivial things like life choices. They can even show hostility to good-hearted suggestions of ways to do things differently. I guess these people can derive happiness from not changing and having a seemingly stable environment, but – and this is why I like these quotes (or rather my interpretation of the quotes) – I’m the complete opposite, I derive happiness from curiosity, from trying new things, from travelling, and I like to question if what I am doing is what I really want, and imagine new ways conducting life.

Guess this attitude is a precondition for seriously considering switching from a well paid job in a stable European democracy to running a small business in West Africa.   Hmm, at a second thought, I got to admit that there is such a thing as foolish non-consistency (or non-conformity) too, and that it probably has more adverse consequences than foolish consistency.

Looking at the full Emerson quote it is possible that it was meant more for consistency in opinions, than for actions. John Maynard Keynes said that “When facts change I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” A foolish consistency would be to not re-evaluate one’s position when facts change.  Well, this interpretation is related to the one above, and I think I’ll stop worry about interpretations, and just go with the one that is most in line with my own biases and prejudices!

And to round up I would like to recommend a blog called The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau  who has taken the concept of doing your own thing to new highs.

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