“A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason”
– GK Chesterson
If you go through life expecting everything to make perfect sense, you’re going to lose your mind. Many things go against common sense, yet they still make sense. They’re paradoxes.
From the dictionary:
a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true
There are hidden things that rule life (loops, systems, unconscious drives, etc) and paradox is one of them.
Wikipedia has a long list of paradoxes (economic paradoxes are the most interesting), but a few that I’ve noticed are below.
Paradoxes of Life
- Choice provides freedom, but too many things to choose from is a burden. The Paradox of Choice describes this. Most kids coming out of college feel this burden because they have too many options to pick from and fear making the wrong choice.
- Many people wake up to life only after they have a near-death encounter (Montainge, Dostoevsky, and others that I can’t recall).
- The more you try to be liked, the less likely it is that people will like you. Neediness is a bad cologne.
- Giving more effort can make you a worse performer (sports, improv, speaking, etc). When professionals screw up their performance, it’s often because they were “in their heads” spending too much time consciously thinking about what they were doing. This is why football times often call a time out before a big field goal. They want to get the kicker to overthink.
- Humor is paradoxical. It often stems from something being simultaneously wrong and ok (a benign violation as Peter McGraw calls it).
- Creating humor is also strange. You’re making something you don’t laugh at, but others do. It’s similar to how you can’t tickle yourself.
- Happiness comes from focusing on and improving something/someone outside of yourself.
- Before getting someone to pay you to do something, you need to first prove that you can do it (this is when it can be good to strategically do free work).
- All great works of art are paradoxical. They’re broad yet very specific.
- “If you want to be the most interesting person in the world, you only have to be the most interested person in the world.”
– Jay Abraham
- “It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into (and no television to numb us out) an evening becomes a vast savannah in which furniture—and other assumptions—get rearranged.”
– Julia Cameron
- “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter.”
– Daniel Coyle
- “Human nature is therefore inherently polarized and paradoxical. We are violent and aggressive yet also empathetic and moral creatures. We are hardwired both to care for others and to pursue self-interest. The hierarchies in which we’ve always lived have collectively endeavored toward the common good, in part because what was good for the group was often good for the individual as well as one’s kin.”
– Douglas Van Praet
- “It is a paradox that, although the striving to master a skill is supremely human, the total mastery of a skill approaches the nonhuman. They who would make man perfect end up de-humanizing him.”
– Eric Hoffer
- Innovation requires a deep understanding of a field, yet the longer you remain in a field the more likely you are to conform to herd thinking.
- “Some believe we should always put others first—that if we don’t look out for the group, the group won’t look out for us. Others believe we should always put ourselves first and that if we don’t take care of ourselves first, then we would be of no use to anyone else. The fact is, both are true.”
– Simon Sinek
These are a few examples of the hundreds I’ve come across in books and life in general. The question I now have is, has someone written a book about different paradoxes?
I don’t necessarily have the desire to write book about the topic, but if someone hasn’t I’ll be making a list of paradoxes in my commonplace book.