Colouring outside the lines

I’m fond of telling my team that we shouldn’t be afraid to occasionally colour outside the lines of our content strategy. That, indeed, some of the best writing we’ve done has been precisely beyond the established and rote. Of course, as a newspaper section, we have a business to run and reader expectations and needs to fulfill — it can’t all be indulge-ever-whim-creativity. But there’s value for both writer and reader in the unexpected; a story about cars that’s really about relationships, for example.

It’s interesting that I’m such an advocate for colouring outside the lines in my professional life, because I struggle with giving myself permission to do is in my private life, or to live with my messier colourings after they’ve been made. I establish rules for myself and I feel like a hypocrite when I step outside these boundaries.

When I examine my life closely, though, I would say that I’m hypocritical in all kinds of ways. Perhaps we all are. I just bought a this purse form Zara, wholly aware that, oh hello Saint Laurent knockoff. And yet, I’ll squawk about people buying a fake tulip table at IKEA instead of hunting for a vintage Saarinen or licensed production. Should I just shut the up because I’m clearly a hypocrite? Or should I admit that this complex world we live in gives us so many choices, but also creates all kinds of competing desires that are sometimes challenging to navigate? Should we forgive ourselves a certain amount of hypocrisy?

These thoughts become even more complex when I dig deeper: Really, do I think the Saint Laurent is that much more ethical? I mean, $2500 more ethical? Or, do we know how Eero Saarinen might have felt about the popularization and democratization of design? I wonder sometimes if we’re not imbuing consumption with snobbery in the guise of ethical notions, and thereby participating in the notion that certain products are exclusive to a privileged few, except as a guilty purchase. Plus, on my salary it's not like this is really an either/or choice. And what I really want is neither: As a consumer, I want choice I can afford that doesn’t originate in sweatshops. I would happily have paid more for that Zara purse if it guaranteed that. But it would more likely end up in some male CEO’s pocket, if anything.

But my hypocrisy isn’t only about consumerism. I’m a vegetarian who sometimes eats fish. I sometimes/often have serious qualms about the industry I’m part of, though I contribute to its success. I rail against the objectification of women, but judge my own reflection from inside those beauty, fashion and "body" paradigms too. And there are things I do that I know I should feel conflicted about but somehow I don't get my panties in a bunch over: Starbucks coffee and Amazon books, being two.

I know each of those admissions will elicit judgement. I deserve that, having rattled on so much here about authenticity (not that I don't mean what I write about that too). Indeed, my admissions elicit such judgement from me too. I’ve been enough of a blog-reader to know that that’s how we read blogs, sizing each other up, admiring or disdainful. But, I suppose there's a chance they might also elicit, “oh, I’m relieved I’m not the only one!”

I have friends and acquaintances who ride high on the moral high horse. They’re mostly on Facebook, constantly railing against things (of course, we all do, but you know what I mean), they have “causes.” But there’s a sort of religious fervour to people who won’t embrace their own and other’s hypocrisy that freaks me out and alienates me. Maybe because I’m afraid how I rate in their eyes. Or maybe because the thought of living that way seems like the furthest thing from joy one could experience. But there’s also the high horse aspect itself; I mistrust it. Indeed, I mistrust all imperiousness, really. And I think holding up every one of your beliefs as if they're a categorical imperative is a limiting way to live.

I’ve also experienced how paralyzing such inelasticity can be. Being afraid of colouring outside the lines can stop you even picking up the crayon (I can’t help but think of Casaubon in Middlemarch - probably one of the most tragic figures in literature — compare/contrast with Mary Garth). And so I’m trying to be more comfortable with my hypocrisy, to not let it knot me up. Not in a glib 'whatevs' way, but to keep moving forward, to allow conversation to flow rather than having relationships that wither in cold judgement. I also think more about goodness (beyond the obvious big right-wrongs) as a quiet and unrecognized decision, not a loud chest-thumping declaration of superiority.

But there’s one more reason I think it’s important to admit and tolerate hypocrisy: we’re hypocrites if we don’t. And we’re essentially then lying about how good we really are, and what good really looks like. We’re presenting a sanitized, Platonic-ideal sort of goodness instead of a real-world, complex and erring kind. We’re presenting the world as clearly demarcated and people and decisions as easily judged. And if anything is, surely that is unkind, even deeply wrong.
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