This post was written by Hannah Leavitt, HC Student Fellow
The first time I read Anna Karenina, I was quick to pick sides. As I continued to read, I recognized that despite their major flaws and mistakes, each character acted authentically. Reflecting on this experience, I realized that, like each of Tolstoy’s characters, I am similarly contradictory. While sometimes I am objective in my decisions, other times, I knowingly make biased decisions. In one way or another, we all are contradictory.
Contradiction is one trait that all humans share. Despite our best intentions, none of us can escape conflict in our feelings, beliefs, and desires. Though mainstream media often creates stories focused around a “good guy” battling against a “bad guy,” it is hard for anyone to actually be completely good or completely bad. Doesn’t the “good guy” also make poor decisions and choices that hurt the people they love? Often, isn’t the “bad guy” someone we would, in a different setting, try to understand? In contemplating the many ways in which I am contradictory, I cannot help but feel that allowing others their contradictions would enable me to also accept others. Maybe, by recognizing the opposites that exist in each of us, we can realize the similarities we have with those who seem foreign to us. In the end, we all are just humans making choices.
Accepting our own contradictions gives each of us an added measure of power. Maya Angelou expresses this thought eloquently in her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth:”
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
Realizing that I, like you (and everyone else), am full of contradictory potentials and realities affords me the ability to truly choose between them. Humans have the unique ability to both harm and heal. We can love, and we can hate. We can acquiesce, and we can refuse. In the process of sifting through our own contradictions, choosing the sides we will take, and learning how our choices affect those around us, we can discover the type of people we want to be and what we want to stand for. There are times when we should happily bow our necks. There are times when we should refuse to concede. “Out of such chaos, of such contradiction” which is life, we learn that we are truly “neither devils nor divines.” Rather, we are free to choose.