Please indulge me this morning, if you would. I have, since a sophomore in high school, been haunted by this quote first uttered to me by my history teacher:
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."
Haunted, pardon the pun, among other reasons because I have spent my work-life in careers whose watchword is consistency: Insurance and accounting. So, whenever someone quoted it, (or spat it at me in frustration) I never had a good comeback. In my business, you can't change the rules on a whim or because it just "feels right".
Yesterday, a coworker who was deep into the process of editing the 80+ page Warrant for our upcoming annual town meeting muttered this quote while chuckling. He had to correct something I had written that on one page contained the word(s) 'town wide' spelled in 3 different ways: Townwide, Town-wide and town wide. And so, although his was the task to get everything consistent througout the publication, he was the one who brought up the quote. Undoubtedly the quote bothered him, too, because he knew there are times when you have to be consistent...no matter the size of one's mind. And so I looked it up.
As it happens, like so many things, this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been misquoted and taken out of context. This soundbite came from an essay on Self reliance. The entire paragraph is:
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
People always leave the word "foolish" off this quote. I don't think we know what Emerson considered foolish or wise consistencies. One writer says that you need to know that Emerson changed his mind about slavery and abolitionism and other topical and controversial issues of the time quite often. He was probably explaining these contradictions and defending his right to change his mind. He believed, according to what I have read, that we should trust our instincts and because he believed that "man" is inherently good I think that worked for him. I rather like the metaphor in the paragraph preceeding the hobgoblin part in which he says:
"Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict some what you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee."
(I have said it before, I do love Emerson.)
I bet most of you just got through the first 2 sentences of today's blog and zoned out. If you got this far perhaps you have already dozed off. It is pretty dry and a bit heavy for this time of the day or, for that matter, whatever time of the day you might be reading this. I actually read most of Emerson's essay this morning and I am still awake. But, I don't blame you if you are taking a nap. Below is another angle on CONSISTENCY!
But for those of you who REALLY know me, my own perspective on consistency has mostly to do with food and how it feels in my mouth. Who really cares what Emerson thought at this hour, anyway?
I would be inconsistent indeed if I didn't mention the more physical aspect of consistency. I have consistently rejected certain foods of certain consistencies, choosing smooth uninterupted puddings over the offputting inconsistency of things crunchy and green hidden in otherwise pleasingly soft environs.
And how I dislike the inconsistency of the seedless green grape with its smooth lovely skin deceptively inviting one to bite through that cool exterior only to be met with an unpleasant crunch before reaching the soft cool center. Having to go through one consistency to get to the other is a cruel trick on ones mouth. Ah, but who knows? Perhaps tomorrow my tongue shall turn and I may find myself eschewing the soft, warm weighty consistency of macaroni and cheese
Have a great day and be as consistent as you want to be. I already know none of you have little minds!