When I was a senior in high school, a teacher gave us a “thinking styles” test based on the work of Anthony Gregorc. We were presented with 15 lists of words (four words per list) and told to circle the two words in each list that best described ourselves, i.e.:

a. doing
b. feeling
c. thinking
d. experimenting

At the end of the test, there was a formula to determine what thinking style suited us best, Concrete Sequential, Concrete Random, Abstract Sequential, or Abstract Random. “Concrete” and “Abstract” referred to perception, whereas “Sequential” and “Random” described the way information is organized.

Much to my surprise and consternation, my thinking style was split 50-50 between Concrete Sequential and Abstract Random. “Great,” I thought, “I effectively have a split personality. My thinking style is evenly divided between two polar opposite ways of thinking; no wonder I’m so neurotic!”

CompetitionIn fact, the tug-of-war between my ordered, logical sensibilities and my spontaneous, “whatever works” approach to life is ongoing. Abstract Random is content to flit from one form of expression to the next: singing along with Lester Young solos today, writing a blog tomorrow, and roasting a pumpkin the following day will surely bear creative fruit in the long run, right? Meanwhile, Concrete Sequential rolls her eyes, makes a schedule and insists that nothing will be accomplished without clearly defined goals and priorities.

But really, aren’t we all kind of a mixed bag of at least a couple of contradictions? Many professional performers, despite living their lives onstage, are incredibly shy. I’ve known pastry chefs who don’t really enjoy sweets. My Midwestern mother, aunt, and former roommate all have a sunny disposition that utterly belies their steely, unsentimental tenacity. My friend F. is a Master Sommelier who prefers Belgian trappist beer to the fancy-schmancy wines he knows so well.

yin_yangNow, after years of watching my inner taskmaster and free spirit do battle with each other, I’ve finally learned that each of them has something precious and essential to offer. Concrete Sequential is the organizer, planner, lone wolf, and pragmatist. Abstract Random is the people person, the intuitive guide, the one I bring to parties. I depend equally and unapologetically on both.

Our contradictions and our complexities are exactly what make us human. Our inner opposites can actually be a blessing, a divine guide of sorts on our journey through this amazing life.

Vive la difference!


6 thoughts on “Contradiction=Benediction

  1. Yeah to split personalities! I always test that way on those things…it usually depends on the day, but i’ll either be just inside ‘Abstract Random’ one time, but then ‘Concrete Sequential’ the next. So yes, i’ve always felt its come in handy – you can adjust to pretty much any situation as needed 🙂 Thank you for your insight!

  2. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large. I contain multitudes.” -Whitman

    A dear friend showed me this poem years ago and it’s something that I never forget. I have paid millions in psycho-therapy to keep reminding myself that I’m BOTH things. I’m ALL things. It’s so much more freeing to give oneself permission to live that truth, instead of constantly tweaking what other’s perceive you as to make them feel comfortable. (Enter the insidious restaurant culture here)

    Where would we be without our dichotomies? I am more prone to think that artists have this awareness and neuroses. I can’t speak for suits (who can?). Academics could sometimes use a dose of it. It feels better to feel better and that is why I find BOTH and ALL is better in the long run.
    Love this blog! Huge fan.

    • Wise words, Jen! Thank you for writing them. I totally hear you–had a mini-meltdown the other night precisely because of the restaurant culture you’re referencing here…sigh. Onward, upward, and here’s to 360-degree living, dichotomies and all! xo

  3. H, I agree with your readers on this one – inner complexity is entirely human and embracing it makes us rich. The conundrum for artists trying to make a living is that while it’s near impossible to sell one’s complexity, it is usually more creatively fulfilling to express it.

    • You’re so right…it seems there’s a hunger (at least in the mainstream) for “uncomplicated.” But the PROCESS of rolling around in our complexity, while exhausting and messy, can be fabulous. xo

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