Getting It Wrong

So often we use familiar quotes that leave out “the next couple of lines.” And the meaning is distorted beyond recognition in the process. Consider “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblins of little minds,” from Ralph Waldo Emerson. The meaning is obviously that changing your mind is no sin; and that the wise among us change when circumstances change.

In the aforementioned D.O., I found the fuller version of RWE’s wisdom:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblins of little minds. Speak what you think today in words as hard as cannonballs, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.”

To be sure, the idea remains the idea of acceptable, in fact admirable inconsistency. But the emphasis is startling. Not only is inconsistency “okay,” but inconsistency delivered in the most forceful terms is to be desired: “hard as cannonballs,” “hard words.” Moreover a rapid shift is acceptable as well: “today,” “tomorrow”—though the latter doubtless is of a metaphorical character. At any rate, a significant change, and as one regularly accused of “[hard-word] inconsistency,” most welcome.

Tom Peters posted this on January 18, 2011, in Brand You.
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