Two Contradictory Ideas

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As I began thinking about this week’s newsletter, I thought about a conversation I had recently with a client. Her college needed her to grow her program, but they were at capacity for classroom space. And of course, one had to wonder why this was urgent because who knew when they would be in the classroom. That’s when I thought of the concept of being able to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. Right now we need to be able to hold at least two contradictory ideas simultaneously, or perhaps follow Alice down the rabbit hole into the realm of this week’s quote.

In this case, it seems to me that we need to be both planning for another semester like this one and beginning to think about what the future might look like beyond COVID-19. In this example, if most classes are online, then we don’t need new classroom space to grow the program. On the other hand, since space is one of the most precious resources on campus, significant advance work is needed to have any hope of gaining new space. But might there be a third option that combines the two contradictory ideas? What have we learned about online teaching, hybrid models of program and service delivery, and the ability of staff to work from home? Do those lessons help find other ways to achieve our ends rather than just ask for more space even though there isn’t any?

With the recent news about the possibility of effective vaccines being available in the near future, it is time to begin thinking about the future while we continue to cope with a very difficult present. And the ways we need to respond to those two different realities may be very contradictory indeed.

I looked up the quote about two contradictory ideas and found this – the quote is attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” He gives as an example being “able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” In an article about these ideas, author Paul Sonderegger writes that Fitzgerald’s point “is not that he needs a better model of the world, but that he needs many models and the freedom to switch among them.”

And that’s what I’m trying to capture here, as we move through the next stages of this challenging reality we are all experiencing, we need multiple ideas and models some of which may be contradictory. We need to continue to operate in a raging pandemic (that statement is full of contradictions by itself.) We need to plan for a return to normal knowing it may look very different from the normal we are used to. I wonder if holding two or more contradictory ideas simultaneously might just be the skill we need to develop over the coming weeks and months as we work to find our way through the next iteration of life during a pandemic. I’m curious to know what you are thinking about as we wrap up the fall semester and prepare for the spring.

Take care,


Here’a a link to the article referenced above: Forget the Turing Test – give AI the F. Scott Fitzgerald Test instead

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