Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Unequivocal oxymorons

In my few years in this business (not the blog business-- I mean my job that pays my VW repair bills so I can get to my job that pays my VW repair bills) I have discovered that virtually everyone is ambivalent, all the time. People think they know what they want. Often they'll march right into the office and tell me. Usually, however, they're wrong. They want something else, but don't feel permitted to say so. Or can't express it. Or aren't even aware of it.

In our society, it borders on sinful to lack brightly-lit awareness of one's wants and goals. How often have you heard "He has no idea what he wants" used as a compliment? We're all struggling (admit it) to keep up the cosmetic front of consistency that belies the shifting sands of our opinions and desires.

I've been thinking, lately, that oxymorons are the societally acceptable expression of our innate amphibological state. Everyone knows oxymorons make either no sense, or less sense than a more precise phrase. Nonetheless, we seem to tolerate them in the language. People point them to each other, not in the way you'd correct someone's spelling, but more as a form of amusement. No one likes to let a good oxymoron slip by uncelebrated. Perhaps they let us, just for a moment, relax into the soothing mire of our own sticky contradictions.

Just a few that I've heard lately...

"In the event of a water landing..." (aboard flight to NYC)

"It turned up missing..." (A favorite expression in these parts-- this morning, regarding a patient's missing pack of cigarettes)

"Rudy Maxa, our travel writer in residence..." (on NPR this morning)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting, because I've lived with my own ambivalence, trying futilely to "correct it" or otherwise achieve "one-pointedness of mind," long enough to suspect that it's part of the human condition. Until lately, when I'm hearing from several smart friends in different sectors of my life, things like: "people do exactly what they want," and "that behavior is somehow serving him/her; otherwise he/she wouldn't be doing it," or "people make choices all the time; she's doing what she chooses to do."
I'm always a bit befuddled at these comments, because 1. there are enough of these around now for me to suspect they're a trend of some kind; and 2. I don't want to be left out, but 3. I have my own lifetime of ambivalence that says hey, something's not right here.
And then I start suspecting people of just wanting to get off the hook from feeling sorry for people who can't make up their minds. It's easier to think everyone's in charge and is making clear choices, so we only have to tend to ourselves.
So, I'm glad to hear someone in the shrink or fade business assuring me ( clue: who's in a bookgroup, heh heh) that there isn't a whole new breakthrough about human motivation that I've missed.

1/13/05, 6:50 PM  

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