In a series of grueling experiences, I’ve had to learn how to sit with cognitive dissonance.
And just the other day, I was sitting in the car realizing just how good at it I’ve become. I’m the opposite of myself–or opposites exist within me, just… no longer oppositionally.
A group of women cut me off in an intersection—it was spectacularly terrible driving and I had an impulsive, unkind thought that both my religion and my political party would not condone. I later watched this group of women guide their rickety car to the side of the overflowing intersection looking desperate and panicked; they’d gotten a flat tire. My knee-jerk anger turned to shame. I then spent a good half hour intellectualizing the experience. Even with religion and political parties as manual override systems, that thought existed within me. Even if the moment was brief, that thought was there all on its own. In that moment I was a Christian, a Democrat, and also a racist. I was both contradictory paradigms—or in this case, all three.
A few weekends ago, I was at a wedding of a dear friend, and we moved the festivities on the dance floor. I’ve never been so painfully aware of the ten extra pounds leftover from pregnancy. I had to confront being sober on the dance floor as a bad dancer with my friends with lowered inhibitions who were inherently good dancers. And I had to reconcile this feeling of utter self-consciousness that new motherhood has brought to me with the strange sensation that I am also the happiest I have ever been. I am happy and I am self-conscious. I am both.
And while we’re at it, I’m desperately proud of my ambitious-beyond-belief husband, and I am also anxious and selfish about the next big work deadline that he has. I’m proud of him and anxious about him. I’m both.
I am a declared Latter-day Saint and Christian that frequently has to interrogate whether or not I am faithful enough to sit in the pews. Both.
I’m a mother and an employee. Both both both.
I’m anxious and I’m competent. Does it still need to be said? I’m both!
Here’s the thing. There was definitely a time that I would have castigated myself for being so divided. The strongest example of this was when I was a liberal-minded Mormon in Provo, Utah. The way that people spoke made me think that I was lesser for not having the conviction of one or the other. I was so deeply torn up about it that I worked myself into the belief that at least HALF of my identity was wrong in some way or the other. It wasn’t a recipe for self-love, I’ll tell you that much.
But more recently the thought struck me that I’m good with all pieces of me because all of those pieces are in some stage of development. I gave myself an enormous pat on the back for accepting both parts of my identity so thoroughly. How wonderful it is to give yourself a break for experiencing ambiguity and imperfection with faith that you’ll sort it all out eventually! I sat with that for twenty healthy minutes before this thought started to itch.
The problem with being ok with bothness is that I lack the conviction and sincerity of single-mindedness. I can be accused of hypocrisy. I can become complacent because I’m just ok with who I am for once. And what I am realizing, in probably my first healthy moment of self-acceptance, is that I can often feel a little aimless when I don’t have a singular forceful passion giving me purpose. It makes the chess game of life guess work.
It means I have to sit with this painfully uncomfortable feeling of having no idea what’s next.
To conclude with finality would betray the sense of quandary I feel regularly. So I guess instead I will conclude with the new question that’s keeping me up at night:
Is it ok to be ok with bothness?
PS: For the record, one thing that I am not complacent with is the fact that I had a racist thought. I openly decry and denounce racism, but just like everyone else, I need to do more self-work to confront and eradicate these thoughts for good. But when there was a time where I would sink into despair for hypocrisy. I just have a little more faith that I’m working on it these days.