Consistency is Overrated

It started with this quote:

“Consistency is the paste jewel that only cheap men cherish.” -William Allen White

Hmmm. I really had to think about that. In fact, as you can see, I’m still thinking about it. “Paste jewel?” I thought to myself, “So he’s saying consistency is a bad quality? How can that be so?”

I wondered if perhaps I misunderstood the meaning of the word, so I looked it up:

consistency [kənˈsɪstənsɪ], consistence. n pl -encies, -ences

1. agreement or accordance with facts, form, or characteristics previously shown or stated
2. agreement or harmony between parts of something complex; compatibility
3. (Physics / General Physics) degree of viscosity or firmness
4. the state or quality of holding or sticking together and retaining shape
5. conformity with previous attitudes, behavior, practice, etc.

Ah ha! William Allen White was talking about the consistency in definition number five: “conformity with previous attitudes, behavior, practice, etc.”

Then all sorts of words and pictures flew into and through my mind. Beatniks, Hippies, Power to the People, Down with The Man! Even Dr. Phil and “How’s that working for you?”

So I Googled “consistency quotes” to see what other great thinkers had to say:

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” -Oscar Wilde

“A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.”– Aldous Huxley

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Consistency is the quality of a stagnant mind.” -John Sloan

“There are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency- and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency- and a vice.” -Mark Twain

“Emerson has said that consistency is a virtue of an ass. No thinking human being can be tied down to a view once expressed in the name of consistency. More important than consistency is responsibility. A responsible person must learn to unlearn what he has learned. A responsible person must have the courage to rethink and change his thoughts. Of course there must be good and sufficient reason for unlearning what he has learned and for recasting his thoughts. There can be no finality in rethinking.” -B.R. Ambedkar

And finally:

“The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him.” -William McGill

Yes, I realize that the type of consistency that William McGill is talking about in the last quote is different from the others. But my thought is this: do I get so caught up in a way of thinking, in a way of being, in a standard of behavior and action, that I forget to really think, to really listen? Do I see what I see because it’s what I want to see, or do I see what I see because it is really there?

And the question I find that I must ask myself: Am I listening? Am I open to hearing what is being said? Or am I only open to finding a comfortable way of being, an easy pathway to walk? Is consistency a crutch or a virtue?

I had a painful encounter yesterday with someone who is very consistent in her views. You are wrong; she is right. Her way of looking at God and what God says and wants and demands is right; my way of looking at God is frivolous and sinful  and wrong. I was hurt by her criticism. I’m already the walking wounded — too sensitive and too emotional — I was cut to the quick.

So I did the most sensible thing possible, I texted my dear Anam Cara, MK. She responded:

“KIM, this is the voice of GOD. You have committed the MORTAL SIN of comparing your frivolous quilt to a work depicting the HOLY TRINITY. For this you must suffer the ranting of an intolerant B**CH. Talk to ya later. GOD OUT.”

Oh how I love her so!

~ by Kimberly Mason on April 8, 2010.

6 Responses to “Consistency is Overrated”

  1. Frivolous! Lord help me then – because you are the deep end of the pool & I’m the kiddie pool. Seriously!

    I really need to think some more about this consistence business – I am being very consistent in my abuse of my body (poor eating habits, no exercise). I let habit chain me to a chair. Do the unexpected – go for a walk in the rain!

  2. OMG; What a fabulous friend to have. And the NERVE of that other person! It sounds to me that MK is consistent in her wisdom, and the other consistent in her foolishness… Because Christ and God are wholly consistent in their unquenchable love for us, their dear children, and they rejoice in EVERY opportunity we find to see them, however frivolous it may seem to others. God is in EVERYTHING, even your critical friend, and God aches right there with you every time someone claims that loving presence is absent…

  3. This makes me smile. I agree.

    And, being a lover of Transcendentalists, not only is the Emerson quote beloved, but also one of Whitman’s:

    “I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, and contain multitudes.”

  4. I found your article on consistency while doing a search for quotes on consistency. I loved how you presented the different viewpoints, it now makes sense to me. I love the virtue of consistency, when applied to a positive goal.

    You asked “is consistency a crutch or a virtue?” I tend to think, now, that it’s like a gun… it depends how you use it.

    I am an artist, and have experienced the closed mindedness of others at church towards the idea that art must be separated into “secular” or “spiritual”. I guess that falls into the “rut” category… consistent with ways of thinking, and not open to new ideas, such as the one by Francis Schaeffer where he says that it ALL God’s, and didn’t believe in separating it out like that.

    And yet, I am on a journey to regain health, and have lost weight (124 lbs so far) and have discovered one of my best tools is consistency in good habits and routines.

    Sorry to be so longwinded… just know that I appreciate very much your article. I plan to read more of your archives.

    Blessings to you!

  5. Oh my thank you for this blog of light i was looking for the mmeaning of the quote ” consistency is the quality of a stagnant mind” and this broke it down where can i subscribe i would love to keep up with you!!

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