Published: April 23, 2021

Pondering Inconsistency

Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again,
though it contradicts everything you said to-day.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”


I used to be contentious and controversial, and then I became congenial and collaborative.
Limerick’s Consistently Repeated Summary of An Inconsistent Life


And Now, Before We Take A Deep Dive into Inconsistency,

A Plea for Everyone to Take the Role of the Thinker, Rest Your Chin on Your Hand, and Put Everything You Have into Pondering a Question I Need You to Answer

When the Center of the American West blog, “Not my First Rodeo” first appeared on May 1, 2020, it had one mission: to make sure that the Center’s friends, affiliates, followers and, for that matter, antagonists knew that this organization had not gone dormant.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, I beseech you to help me figure out what happens next with this blog. Receiving your help matters so much to me that I am using the word “beseeched” for the first time in my life.

Here is the question I want you to ponder.

If the Center were to close down this rodeo of stories and reflections, would that leave a vacancy in your life or in the intellectual life of the American West?

If your answer is “Yes,” write a couple of sentences letting me know why you think “Not my First Rodeo” should continue.

If your answer is “No,” write a couple of sentences letting me know how you think the Center should redirect the time and energy that has gone into this blog.

In case you are wondering, both “Yes” and “No” count as right answers.

At this point, you should feel free to leap into action and send your answer to

Whatever becomes of “Not my First Rodeo” in the long run, there are two things you should know about its immediate future.

Next week, as a commemoration of its one-year anniversary, “Not my First Rodeo” will offer the most charming and spirit-lifting collection of words ever sent out into the world by the Center of the American West. I make this promise with confidence because I have recruited two gifted co-authors who will be making their literary debuts.

But this week is another matter entirely, and you may want to find better uses for your time than reading what follows.


An Inconsistent Address to Readers

Until this week, I have always hoped that people will read what I have written. At the moment, I am suspending that hope. But this moratorium will be very short-lived, and I will instantly return to writing words and statements that I wish people would read. (Indeed, that return occurs in the subsection here called “Consistent Cheer, Constantly Confirmed.”)

But here is the reader advisory for this week.

I wrote the next section, called “Optimism Takes Time Off,” with the aspiration that I will regret having written it. I hope that everything I say there will soon come to seem outmoded and wrongheaded. It is my dream that events and trends will soon require me to acknowledge the depth of my misjudgments and misapprehensions.

I would like to find many occasions to say this:

I don’t know what got into me in the Spring of 2021. For reasons I cannot now imagine, I was moved to write a statement that was utterly inconsistent with the problem-solving spirit I have embraced all of my life. Thank heavens, the dejection that I tried to impose on readers who deserved better from me turned out to be overwrought and misguided.

In truth, at this very moment of writing, I am still tempted to delete this statement that I so look forward to regretting, renouncing, and recanting!

Here’s why I am letting the statement stay.

First, I want to know if I have company in the intensity of my alarm over current circumstances in our nation.

Second, forthrightness and full disclosure seem far more honorable than concealment and evasion.

Third, I am eager to benefit from energetic efforts to guide me in course correction, pointing out the reasons why I should reconsider and reconfigure my dismay.

And then there’s the fact that, when it comes to optimism, hope, and cheer, I may be incorrigible.

If you can endure the passage through gloom, you will then find me making a completely improbable, utterly inconsistent return to my usual spirit and character. The gloom will be on record, but I will also put on record a faith in human beings that gets overwhelming confirmation every day of my life.

The two statements set forth in this “Rodeo” post are incompatible and inconsistent. Indeed, they will seem to have been written by two different people. But I am the author of both statements. These contradictory viewpoints cohabit and coexist in one soul, which—so far—is more troubled than tormented.


Optimism Takes Time Off

In the past, I have always been able to persuade myself that the problems faced by the United States are within the reach of human ingenuity, enterprise, and good will.

That confidence is wearing down.

What is my honest appraisal of the state of the nation and the world today?

The rattled and contentious state of our society has reduced its problem-solving capacity to the vanishing point. In the absence of agreement on truth, fact, and accuracy, it has become nearly impossible to identify and assess problems, much less to lay out and execute plans of action to resolve them. Even if the disputes over truth could be transcended, there would still be an insufficient supply of good will and collaborative spirit available to put remedies and solutions to work.

The problems that preoccupy me range from the uncertain state of national recovery from the pandemic to the intense divisions between the political parties, from the multiple variations of gun violence to the capacity of social media to spread antagonism and misinformation, from the deep divisions over race and ethnicity to the climate “weirding” [aka “warming”] of temperature extremes, uncertain patterns of precipitation, and enhanced risks of wildfires, from the stalemated effort to design a humane but consistent policy on immigration to the uneven distribution of economic hardship among different groups and communities.

That was a paragraph sufficiently packed with despair.

And yet, when I contemplate the social, cultural, and political capacity to deal with these problems, the freight of despair only grows. A swirl of antagonism and dispute surrounds every dimension and aspect of human well-being. Enthusiasm for blaming, condemning, and demonizing has fractured prospects and possibilities for common cause and shared enterprise. Empathy has been pushed to the margins by anger, resentment, and fear. The idea of the United States setting an example for the planet—by demonstrating the viability of democratic self-governance—has edged into parody. The nation is locked in contention, and I have no idea where we might find the key.

If there is a key.

Remember: I wrote this statement—and then chose not to delete it—with the hope that I will soon be given opportunities aplenty to recant and renounce its pessimism.

And now, as promised, I perform a public act of utter self-contradiction and reclaim my familiar character traits.


Consistent Cheer, Constantly Reaffirmed

Here is the conviction that I return to at the end of every day:

The world is densely populated by wonderful people who are fully committed to problem-solving and who are guided and governed by good will. 

Thanks to my constant immersion in good company, brought into my reach by Zoom, email, texting, and even by my old-fashioned landline, this conviction gets constant reinforcement.

The upshot: good will and good nature provide the environment, the ambiance, and the habitat in which I live.

I am learning constantly from the stories, reflections, and often perfectly phrased and quotable comments from people who dazzle me with the originality and vigor of their minds. For minutes—actually, hours and days and weeks!—after I have heard their remarks or read their messages, my own thinking keeps getting enlivened and stirred up by memories of what these people tell me. They keep me entertained, and they often make me laugh, sometimes to the point of extreme and, for all I know, inappropriate merriment. These folks raise my spirits. They restore my hope.

The consistency of my good fortune can almost make me wonder if I have landed in one of those frequently lamented bubbles of communication, in which my contacts are somehow filtered, screened, edited, and narrowly curated. Could it be that I am the subject of a strange social psychology experiment, by which only individuals who I will find to be people of insight, integrity, and charm are given access to me through my landline, my cell phone, my iPad, and my computer? Is some surprisingly benevolent digital tyrant trying to impose homogeneity and sameness on my social circles and on my professional associates and colleagues?

If so, that tyrant is performing poorly at the job of constraining the diversity of opinions, values, and perspectives, the variety of interests and aspirations, and the range of ages, ethnicities, and geographical locations of the people who are enriching my life.

I repeat the conviction I return to at the end of every day: The world is densely populated by wonderful people who are fully committed to problem-solving and who are guided and governed by good will.


And What on Earth Is the Takeaway from This Immersion in Inconsistency?

I have put forward two completely inconsistent appraisals of the state of affairs in April of 2021.

What could possibly explain the wild disparity between my day-to-day experiences and the troubles that overwhelm my nation? Why is there such a discrepancy between the national and international problems I read and hear about, and the abundance of congeniality and good nature that is always registering on my Zoom screen?

Here are some speculations.

Might it be that my gloom originates primarily in the fact that I draw the evidence of national dysfunction and contention primarily from stories that I read in The New York Times and hear on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered”? Should I make a more consistent and purposeful effort to expand the sources of information I take to be credible?

Would my mournfulness lessen if I made a more complete acknowledgment of the many Americans who are hard at work figuring out solutions and resolutions to problems and conflicts?  Could it be that my lifelong preference for alliance-building, coalition-creating, and peacemaking keeps me from properly recognizing and valuing the principled enterprises of activists and protesters?

Does my desire to proclaim my dismay add up to an exercise in self-indulgence, made possible by my own good fortune as a person who has been spared infection with Covid-19, spared an encounter with violence, either as a victim or a witness, and spared financial hardship?

Could it be that my alarm soars because of a small-scale, personal frustration?  Because I am a person who compulsively wants to pitch in and be helpful, when I pay attention to national and international news, I am quickly demoralized by the way that the scale of problems exposes my own insignificance and impotence. It seems entirely imaginable that I would benefit—and, indeed, humanity might benefit—if I adopted the custom of reciting to myself that excellent aphorism, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”

And now for a ridiculous conclusion.

If I could, I would trade.

I would reverse the current allocations of hope and dismay.

I would yield the spirit-lifting manifestations of human character that fill my days to the nation. I would, in this trade, devote my own time to confronting the disturbing and disheartening features of human nature.

Having made that noble and generous offer, I am now set up to conclude with one more public performance of inconsistency: I enjoyed making this lovely offer of self-sacrifice, and I am enormously relieved that I can’t possibly deliver on it.

And now, if I am really going to embrace inconsistency, I might as well put aside (temporarily!) my chattiness and offer a “Not my First Rodeo” post that is half the length of my normal posts.


Back to Beseeching

Please help me figure out the future of “Not my First Rodeo,” by responding to the question I posed at the start.

If the Center were to close down this rodeo of stories and reflections, would that leave a vacancy in your life or in the intellectual life of the American West?

If your answer is “Yes,” write a couple of sentences letting me know why you think “Not my First Rodeo” should continue.

If your answer is “No,” write a couple of sentences letting me know how you think the Center should redirect the time and energy that has gone into this blog.

In case you are wondering, both “Yes” and “No” count as right answers.

Send the results of your pondering to


More Thoughts for Pondering

“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Sage of Concord

“Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, of action, over a long period of time.”
Bruce Springsteen, The Sage of New Jersey


Patty Limerick's Signature
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