Are you familiar with the word contrast? It is a common term in photography and television but applies to much more than images. It provides a way to learn about many things, including people. Let’s look at the power of contrasts in everyday life and how to use them to your advantage.
“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”Herman Melville (1819–1891)
Since this article is not about visual contrasts, let’s look at its other side, that of differences. Understanding contrasts can give you serious power and help you live your best life.
The word contrast has four definitions in the Oxford Languages Dictionary. This article focuses on two of these as follows:
the action of calling attention tonotable differences.
a thing or person having qualitiesnoticeably differentfrom another.
What can we learn from the many contrasts in life? From the time we are born, they begin to shape us. For example, a baby goes from hungry to satiated, awake to asleep, satisfied to dissatisfied, and happy to sad. And this is only the beginning. Contrasts continue to influence every part of our lives, however long we live.
As adults, contrasts help us see, understand, and develop biases. They awaken our understanding of who we are and what we want. Contrasts are so important they are indispensable!
“Life really is a series of contrasts.” George W. Bush (1946-present)
Contrasts affect everything from our subtlest thoughts to our worldview. A few of the broader contrasts we draw include:
- work vs. leisure
- satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction
- desires vs. dislikes
- good vs. bad
- love vs. hate
- happy vs. sad
Contrasts can also be more nuanced, such as:
- rest vs. relaxation vs. sleep vs. activities
- driving hard vs. fast vs. slow vs. not at all
- eating vs. bingeing vs. dieting vs. fasting
- black vs. white vs. different shades of gray
The above represent only a few examples of the many contrasts that affect our lives. Besides shaping every living being, they influence everything we do.
Contrasts help us determine our boundaries and what is allowed to cross them. They help us learn what we should or shouldn’t, can and can’t, will and won’t do. Contrasts help us deal with serious issues, such as life and death, while also helping us deal with more mundane matters, such as choosing what to have for lunch and where to go to get it.
Every life is so complex it is in these contrasts that life keeps us on our toes. How would we otherwise know right from wrong, good from bad, rich from poor, beauty from unattractiveness, and a million other things?
“By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration but ourreconsideration.” Amor Towles (1964-present)
Yes, contrasts make us who we are, yet we can maintain a high degree of control over their outcomes.
What can a person do with them?
“Put light against light — you have nothing. Put dark against dark — you have nothing. It’s the contrast of light and dark that eachgive the other one meaning.” Bob Ross (1942–1995)
With so many contrasts in life, where do you start? How about beginning with understanding your mindset and what you focus on?
Let’s look at some essential contrasts to see where we fall. Rate how much you focus or do not focus on each. Print the list so you can record the intensity of your concentration next to each. Be honest with yourself. This list is for your eyes only unless you choose to share it. For rating, use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the weakest focus and 10 the strongest.
- won’t do vs. will do
- can’t do vs. can do
- impossible vs. possible
- failure vs. success
- loneliness vs. companionship
- conflict vs. peace
- bad vs. good
- poor vs. wealthy
- unhealthy vs. healthy
- hate vs. love
- sadness vs. happiness
- misery vs. joy
- unattractiveness vs. beauty
- non-spiritual vs. spiritual
What other contrasts would you add to this list?
Once you have your list with ratings, examine them, looking for any emerging patterns. Next, ask yourself the following questions:
- “On which sets would I like to grow to a higher number on the right item?”
- “Which sets would provide me with the greatest opportunity for growth?”
- “Which sets will I commit to working on today?”
- “How can I keep this list in front of me as a reminder of the work I wish to continue on myself?”
- “What date do I want to add to my calendar for my next check-in on the list?”
When I ask a client to do this exercise, it always produces eye-opening results.
I regularly update my personal list and usually find room for improvement in more than one area.
To make this exercise especially impactful, do it with your significant other or someone you trust, discussing each item and number with them. Even if you choose to do it alone, you will be amazed at how much you learn about yourself. Yet the impact will be even greater if you decide to do it with someone else.
By examining how you view different contrasts in life, you will get to know yourself better and find areas you can work on to improve.
Remember the brutally honest words of Socrates:
“The unexamined life is not worth living!”
Ultimately, life is about one thing —you and those you care for. I recall so well when my first wife was on her deathbed. Nothing mattered in the world to her, me, or my daughter but one another. Literally, nothing else mattered. That is how it will be for all of us one day, but until then, heed these words of a famous American author and historian:
“I am only one, but still I am one.I cannot do everything,but still I can do somethingand because I cannot do everything,I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909)
You are also that one, and you can do something to make a difference in your life and to those you care about. What better way to accomplish that than by getting to know yourself better while shaping your life the way you want? That is one of the most valuable things you can do and is a big part of what makes life worth living!