I was listening to Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of the excellent BIRDMAN, on a podcast the other day (it was either The Business or The Frame, I forget, sorry) and he said something brilliant.
Seriously, this was the smartest thing I'd heard anyone say in a while, and it went a little like this:
For Iñárritu the definition of intelligence is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing ideas in mind at the same time.
I loved that. I love it because the world is not simple. Things are rarely what they appear to be. At any given moment there are opposing forces out in the world, even in our own hearts, that can be completely valid.
Iñárritu, as a dramatist, sees the value of holding notions in tension. That wisdom flipped a switch in my brain. It's easy to sit on the Internet and think that everything should be reducible. That the world is black and white. That wisdom can be contained in a few #hashtags.
There’s a place for naïveté, but the context-free lived experience of Twitter et. al. takes this to absurd extremes.
So I can say, for instance, Je Suis Charlie while simultaneously thinking the products of Charlie Hebdo are absolute crap. Because I’m not so dishonest with my own heart as to think I’m above being cruel and insensitive now and again.
There’s actually an old Star Wars reference, torn out the pages of late 80’s RPGs, which captures this in the form of verse:
Always the is and is not are made together
Always the hard and easy happen at the same time
Reality is what takes place in the space between two notions in tension. All else is a trick of the light.