Extreme Views: Split the Difference
Like sinus infections and tax audits, extreme attitudes are not good, but sometimes they happen anyway. The world is not a stark battleground of mutually exclusive viewpoints, but sometimes that is the way we see things. Extreme attitudes, uncompromising positions, and absolute perspective all should be avoided because they lead to harshness when we should really be kind.
Of course we should go easy on our friends and neighbors, even when their extreme attitudes don’t mesh with our own. We should try to be nice to our enemies when they have stupid ideas about the way the world ought to be. These things are fairly obvious. Don’t let an extreme attitude trick you into being mean to your friends or cruel to your enemies. But there is something else to remember that is not always so clear: Don’t let an extreme attitude compel you to be hard on yourself.
We all have extreme views on things outside ourselves. People care too much about politics and religion and whether or not Red Vines are better than Twizzlers (They are both terrible!) I suspect the most extreme views we have are the views we hold about ourselves. Some people see themselves as untarnished saints. Others are convinced they are the worst person ever to live. Neither of these views are possible accurate, nor are they helpful in any way. What is the point of something inaccurate and unhelpful. I think you’d probably have to ask a guidance counselor. Or an Economist. Or a journalist. Or a priest…
I often bounce back and forth between two extreme views on myself. On the one hand, I can do anything because I am awesome! This is a truly liberating feeling, right up to the point when it feels like too much pressure.
On the other hand, I often feel like I can’t do anything, because I suck. I’m sure many people feel this way about themselves sometimes. Most of us probably feel this way a lot of the time, but you won’t hear anyone normal talk about it. We all know nobody likes a self-loathing lamenter.
Both views of myself, that I am eminently awesome and that I am irredeemably terrible, are extreme and unfair perspectives. Nobody can do everything, no matter how awesome they are. And everyone can do something, no matter how much they suck.
What should I do with these harsh and conflicting perspectives? I can’t just make them go away. But I like to make new things with the old materials I have, so perhaps I can do some intellectual upcycling. Maybe I can take the pieces of these perspectives, split the difference, and come up with two new perspectives that are at least more helpful, if not any more accurate.
So sometimes I think I can do everything because I am awesome, and other times I think I can’t do anything because I suck. Can those pieces fit together differently?
Maybe I can do everything because I suck.
Maybe I don’t do anything because I am awesome!
Even the most extreme viewpoints buckle in the face of logical absurdity.
I know that might not make a lot of sense, but it’s not really supposed to. It deflates an extreme viewpoint that is arrogant. It tears the fangs out of an extreme viewpoint that is depressing. And its just a fun way of thinking.