In Praise of Inconsistency

I went to a conference hosted by the Massachusetts Hospital Association the other day. My intent was to commune with C-suite leaders of health care organizations in order to build relationships with them and thereby help my design clientele build business. One of the workshops was on managing up and down, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. The speaker, an up-and-coming vice president at Lowell General Hospital, identified several areas of leadership. Of course I rated myself on all of them because someday I would like to be a CEO. I give myself good marks for attitude, presentation, commitment, communication, vision, ownership, appreciation, accountability, and timeliness. The only area that I could not give myself high marks was consistency. I was never the girl who could get to work at the same time every day. Not the one who can treat every situation the same, every person fairly at all times. My executive coach leapt at this revelation. “That’s great,” he said. “You have identified a key weakness!” Not so fast, Mr. Coach. I waved in his face this passage from a piece in the New York Times entitled “The Perils of Perfection,” about machine learning and all that Google glasses promise us, like enhanced self-insight and auto-correcting our daily behavior:

In his brilliant essay “In Praise of Inconsistency,” published in Dissent in 1964, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski argued that, given that we are regularly confronted with equally valid choices where painful ethical reflection is in order, being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue who sticks to an algorithm. For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.

“The breed of the hesitant and the weak …of those …who believe in telling the truth but rather than tell a distinguished painter that his paintings are daubs will praise him politely,” he wrote, “this breed of the inconsistent is still one of the main hopes for the continued survival of the human race.”

So you see, Mr. Coach, Ms. Hospital VP, inconsistency, chameleon-like adaptation to the particulars of the day and the person, the mood and the weather, are the creative and beautiful strokes on this painting we call life. I may be the very hope for your continued survival. {Chuckle.}

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