In Praise of Consistency



“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” goes a famous Emerson quote. People often drop the word “foolish,” suggesting that all forms of consistency are only for little minds. From the larger context of the Self Reliance essay though it would seem that Emerson was rejecting consistency when it means never changing one’s mind, not even after having a new insight or obtaining new information. Or when consistency means going along uncritically with the prevailing public opinion.

There is another way though in which consistency matters and can hold great power: internal consistency. For instance, the consistency of words and actions. Or the consistency of two positions held strongly at the same time (which is quite different from the consistency of one position over time). Emerson in his quote goes on to cite Pythagoras, Jesus, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton as examples of great minds who were misunderstood because they didn’t care about foolish consistency. These are all paragons of internal consistency (admittedly, to varying degrees).

The power of the internal consistency of words and actions is quite straightforward. Over time it gives rise to an authentic life, as opposed to one marked by hypocrisy. For anyone with a modicum of self reflection, this should be a goal integral to living a good life (and not as a means to an end, such as being authentic to gain more followers or make more money). The power of consistency of words and actions is in how one feels about (Read more...)