How to Make the Best Use of Contrasts in Life

Bill Abbate

Photo by Matheus Viana from Pexels

The Importance of Understating How to Make Contrasts

Imagine living without a frame of reference for anything in life. For something to have meaning and make sense, it must be contrasted or compared to something else. Without the ability to contrast and compare in life, all would become meaningless. Fortunately, such an existence exists in only the basest forms of life. As creatures of higher intelligence, we form frames of reference based on contrasting and comparing, using judgment and discernment to build the knowledge and wisdom in our lives.

"Beautiful light is born of a contrast to darkness." Ross Turnbull


The word contrast, a critical element to making sense and meaning in life, has always held my interest. My first introduction to the concept of contrast was in photography.

I miss the days of film and the darkroom. I have many fond memories developing and fixing film, drying it, projecting the image using an enlarger onto photo paper, and chemically developing and fixing the image.

I miss the excitement of seeing the image come to life before my eyes. And I will never forget the smell of the chemicals. I loved working in the darkroom and creating gorgeous black and white images.

Black and white photography had a great deal to do with contrast, from the film and paper of varying contrasts to exposure and chemicals' effects on contrast. Contrast carried a great deal of importance back then as it does today but is far easier to manipulate digitally.

Nonetheless, as contrast is of great importance in creating an image, it is extremely important to the image we hold of life and living. Contrast is a critical concept in life, knowledge, and the wisdom of mankind. To ensure clarity for this article, let's turn to the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word.

contrast (noun) - the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.

Without using this ability to contrast the abstract and concrete in our minds, how would we know the difference between light and darkness, good and evil? How would we know tall without short, beauty without ugliness, length without width, far without near, life without death? How could we know anything at all without the ability to see differences and make distinctions? It would be difficult, no, it would be impossible, wouldn't it?

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant." Anne Bradstreet

To make the most sense out of life it is vital to pay attention to and understand the many contrasts that exist. In doing so, you develop knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing and the accumulation of facts. Wisdom provides perspective with discernment and judgment of what is true and right, what will last, and how to apply it to life.

"Put light against light - you have nothing. Put dark against dark - you have nothing. It's the contrast of light and dark that each give the other one meaning." Bob Ross

It is because of contrast that differences are meaningful and life-giving, or life-taking. Those who understand this accomplish more in life. They are those who find opportunities others miss.

"The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites." Carl Jung

Applying contrast in your life

If you want to enhance your perspective and appreciation, knowledge, and wisdom about anything in life, try this little exercise.

Think about any subject, object, person, anything at all that is important to you. When you have it in mind, inquire about its contrasts.

Example 1

Take, for example, my relationship with Jane, my wife. What contrasts exist, or what can I contrast in our relationship? At a high level, I have a great marriage, a loving and dedicated woman in Jane. In contrast to those things would be a bad marriage, a wife who didn't love me, and one that was unfaithful. That is quite a contrast, isn't it?

What knowledge and wisdom can be gained through this examination of contrasts? To me, it is that I am one lucky man to have such a great wife who loves and cares for me. I appreciate her more, especially when I look at what it could be at the opposite end of the spectrum. In gaining this additional awareness of how blessed I am, my thankfulness for her increases. As I always say, what you appreciate appreciates, and what you don't won't!

Example 2

Another example is my healthy lifestyle. Despite health issues in my past, I am now reasonably healthy. I try to eat right, exercise, and keep my mind active. What would contrast this? An unhealthy lifestyle, eating a lot of junk food and sweets, becoming a couch potato, and watching TV all of the time. Quite a contrast, isn't it? It looks like I keep a great lifestyle in this contrast! This encourages me to keep it up and perhaps do even more.

Would I not be convicted to develop a better lifestyle if I were on the other side of this example? Perhaps I would, perhaps not. However, it lays out a clear understanding of my options, rather than never have considered it. It is the ability to enhance your view or perspective that contrasting can add to your knowledge and wisdom.


Let's apply this concept to those working on their career. Look at where you are now and where you could be, both at a higher and lower level. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I notice in both directions – at higher and lower levels?
  • What do I appreciate about where I am?
  • What do I want to change?
  • What improvements can I make?
  • What can I begin doing to make the change and improvements now?

As you can clearly see, you will miss a great deal unless you use contrasting to uncover different perspectives and the resulting possibilities.

Final words

Do you see where making contrasts in life can be helpful? Using this concept of making contrasts, you can improve and learn to appreciate so much more in life. In a photograph, the sharper the contrast, the sharper the image. This is as true for the image created in your mind as it is for an image on paper.

The greater you develop your ability to make distinctions, the greater your ability will become to make meaning of and understand life.

To live without contrasting is to miss a great deal of life. Begin using this concept to enhance your life and the life of those around you. I leave you with a final quote on which to contemplate:

"We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast." Sigmund Freud

If this is newfound knowledge, I hope you will use it to increase your wisdom in the life you lead. At the least, examine the contrast if you do not use this knowledge to using it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so!

What kinds of things can you contrast in your life? While the possibilities are almost limitless, I would love to hear some that would have meaning to you and would greatly appreciate it if you could drop me a note or a comment!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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