The Power of Contrast
I remember talking to a friend of mine – we can call her Alice – in University, during a Computer Science Honours class lecture. We were supposed to be discussing database architecture, yet we somehow ended up on the topic of relationships. She told me that she was single at the time, wasn’t into dating/relationships and in fact had not dated at all, yet was still fully assured that she will “just know” when the right man walks into her life. I respected her approach, but my argument was that if she has nothing at all to compare this potential Mr. Right to then when she does eventually come across him, how will she actually know that she knows? In her response, she mentioned the Holy Spirit or something along those lines and I had no – polite/politically correct – counter argument to rebound with, so I simply let it go.
Those that know me well will be the first to tell you that I absolutely adore engaging in – logical, rational, well-structured – discussions (ie. I love making and substantiating my point, ie. I will never back down from an argument) but I have learned to bow out gracefully as soon as someone throws the H, G or J man into the mix, because you simply cannot conduct a constructive argument when eternity and the afterlife is hanging in the balance.
I learned this the hard way over the 2 years prior to this discussion because I was the guy who would spark up conversations/debates on Facebook about the existence of God, the validity of the Bible and the concept of absolute morality etc, yes… I was THAT guy.
I used to do this rambling in a Facebook group I created called FreeThinkers, so thankfully I was able to engage with like minded people (I miss you guys 😥 ), both theist and atheists alike. But I still have many scars from never-ending, in person cyclical arguments that I have had with staunch theists. It seems that you just can’t win with them, so I learned to just let it go.
Anyways, Alice and I amicably agreed to disagree and life continued as usual. This happened about 4 years ago and I have been in a few relationships/complicatedships since then and I still maintain the exact same position that I did back then, even more so now because of the additional experiences (both good and bad) that I have had over the years. I am still a firm believer in and an advocate for the power of contrast and I have seen this power play out in many other areas of my life, which I shall expand on below.
Contrast in relationships
If you haven’t gathered by now, my current view on relationships is that they are simply trial and error. Some of the more fortunate individuals amongst us are lucky enough to be in possession of the magical cheat codes of life and win the Game of Love early on. While the rest of us average players just seem to keep on haphazardly respawning, as we aimlessly walk around from level to level trying to find hints and clues on how to beat the boss.
The irony about relationships is that being with someone else, actually helps you understand yourself better. Through the various intimate encounters that you have with other human beings, you are able to gradually establish what you like, what you don’t like, what you can tolerate and what you deem completely unacceptable. Looking at who I was in my first relationship (2009) vs. who I was in my most recent one (2017), it is very clear to see how I have transitioned both mentally and emotionally. With all the accumulated knowledge gained from my previous experiences helping me determine what I should be looking for in my ideal better half, as well as what I should be avoiding (hint: it rhymes with caddy tissues). I believe that one of the best ways – not the only way- to reach a lot of these realizations is through practical, hands on experimentation. Otherwise, all you will ever have is hopes, ideals, dreams, and fantasies bundled in with a whole lot of untested theory.
Contrast in business
As with relationships, the more business ventures you involve yourself in, the more you improve on your overall business acumen over time. And while some people hold the view that failing makes you a better entrepreneur, others are firmly against the “it’s ok to fail” mentality. But either way, whatever your view is, you should still be out there in the trenches, regardless of the outcome.
Along with being able to make better business decisions, you also grow to understand what types of business relationships you should foster and which ones you should avoid. “Choose your clients” is what I used to hear in my early days of living in Hustleville. Initially I never really understood this because I honestly thought that money was money and naturally – being the capitalist that I am – I would always choose money regardless of where it came from. But over the recent years, I have realized that who the money comes from is just as important as the money itself.
Businesses, like relationships, are trial and error so regardless of how much of an expert you are in your field, at one point or another, “school fees” will be paid, either by you and your business or by your clients, especially in the early days.
So all in all, the more experience you have, the better you will be at making judgments in the long run.
Contrast in spirituality
I have many a story about my numerous spiritual escapades. For starters, I was once “baptized” in a shower (FYI I had a robe on) in Observatory, Cape Town by four Korean men, all in the name of God the Mother (all you need to know is that an attractive woman was involved in this, yet unfortunately even post baptism I was still cockblocked by the J man). I have meditated in a few temples around Cape Town: Buddhist, Hare Krishna and secular ones as well (Transcendental Meditation and The House of Healing #BestPlaceEver #AndreIsSuchALegend). I have attended Nigerian Churches (Winners Chapel), South African Churches (Common Ground) and Australian Churches (Hillsong). I have read pro-religion books, anti-religion books and I am doing my best to remain sane while looking into all the predominant “isms” of philosophy (existentialism, nihilism, and stoicism to name a few – which I have explained further below).
From all this sporadic dabbling I have come to realize that you can only really value and appreciate a teaching/way of life when you have a basic knowledge/understanding and better yet an actual experience of some of the others. Just like businesses and relationships, “spirituality” (whatever this even means) is also trial and error and as the great Wayne Dyer used to say:
“You should have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing”.
So I’m not suggesting that one should try out and believe wholeheartedly in absolutely everything that one is exposed to, but one should at least consider giving it some thought and attention. I.e don’t be so closed minded, life is not that serious.
The alternative approach, of course, is to desperately cling onto one teaching/teacher from birth to death, and hold that teaching as true, divine and all encompassing. Which is perfectly fine as well (to each his own) but then this brings us back to a similar question to the one that I posed to Alice in the first paragraph: if you have not experienced anything else then how will you ever know for sure that the path you are on is right for you?
Contrast for the win
Contrast is an extremely useful tool if used correctly. Yes, it may mean make ups and break ups in relationships, failures, and successes in business ventures or gongs, Korean men, showers and Jolof rice in your continuous search for enlightenment, but at the end of the day, what is this life but a journey of self-exploration?
I am a firm a believer that “we are the universe looking back at itself” and that we are simply here for the experience:
“You – in your fundamental existence – are the total energy that constitutes this universe, playing that it’s you… Playing that it’s this particular organism… And even playing that it’s this particular person… Because the fundamental game of the world is a game of hide and seek. That is to say that the colossal reality – the energy that is everything… that is a unitary energy… that is ONE—plays at being many.”
– Alan Watts
So if this is the case then why not try out as many things as possible, go HAM and Ball Out whenever we can? #Yolo.
School Fees: The money paid/time used to learn and make mistakes while running a business.
Stoicism: An ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.
My interpretation: You need to have an I don’t give a F*ck attitude about things that are not in your control because while you have little to no control over people and circumstances, you have full control of your reaction to them.
Nihilism: The belief that nothing in the world has a real existence.
My interpretation: Nothing matters, we are all going to die and go nowhere.
Existentialism: A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.
My interpretation: Your life is what you make of it, you define your own purpose, you give your life meaning.