Values And Contradiction

We live in a world of contradiction. Whether you notice it or not, contradiction permeates our daily lives. It’s at home, at work, on the news, in the store, next door and across the street.

It’s the fast-food employee who greets you with a disinterested stare as he takes down your order incorrectly, shoves your food at you, and then says, “Have a nice day.” It’s the commitment you made to sticking to your budget before deciding that a new saddle is definitely what you need to improve your performance in the show pen. It’s your company’s public vow to improve customer service as they privately lay off customer service employees to improve the bottom line. It’s your promise to a family member that you’ll attend an important event, only to offer up half-hearted apologies for being late, or missing it completely. Contradiction even affects the world globally if you think in terms of lavishly rich folks, with plenty of food on their plates, and the poverty stricken masses, dying of starvation every day. Yes, we live in a world of contradiction.

In the horse industry, the point was driven home to me by the judgment in the cloning lawsuit against the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), which was recently ordered to accept clones into the registry. 

You have two groups of people – the plaintiffs, Jason Abraham and Dr. Gregg Veneklasen, and the defendant, the AQHA – who each believe that what they are fighting for will improve the Quarter Horse breed. Both sides can’t be right – that’s a contradiction. Proponents of cloning cite the ability to remove defective genes, thereby improving the breed as a whole by fixing genetic mutations through cloning. Cloning, they say, affords breeders the opportunity to tap into the previously unavailable genetics of geldings and can extend the contribution of genetically excellent stallions and mares. Opponents of cloning say clones stop genetic progress in its tracks, thereby stalling the breed rather than improving it. They say the inability to differentiate between clones and the original animal creates a huge gap in the association’s ability to protect the integrity of the American Quarter Horse.

More contradictions.

When it comes to the real world, we find that many times, contradictions depend on our beliefs. If you believe the plaintiffs’ case, and feel that they should be allowed to register their clones, you probably don’t think there is a contradiction in the lawsuit. Likewise, if you believe what the AQHA believes, the contradiction disappears.

But many people I’ve talked to believe a little bit of each, which creates a different type of contradiction known in psychiatry circles as cognitive dissonance. Those are the fancy words for what happens when we simultaneously hold two different ideas, beliefs or values, and get frustrated or feel dread, guilt, anger or anxiety because of it. The more I talk to people about cloning, the more I believe the flaring tempers and the voiced frustrations and the ultimatums and the internet diatribes aren’t always actually about cloning. Sometimes, I think it’s about what we believe, and sometimes, what we believe is.

Now I’m not saying some people don’t have very strong beliefs about cloning. They do. But I think there are a lot more people who are on the fence. I think there are a lot more people who, like me, formed an opinion first before taking a deeper look at what they really believe. If your opinion didn’t match your beliefs, you probably felt a bit uncomfortable talking about the whole thing. You might say you were for or against cloning, but couldn’t ever really articulate exactly why.

Sports psychologist Anna Mitchell touches on this in her “The Competitive Edge” column on page 62 in this issue. Mitchell, who has written a monthly column for Quarter Horse News for eight years, talks about value clarification, saying, “Value clarification is not something that we ordinarily set time aside for in our busy lives, but this is a valuable exercise in self-awareness. Ask the average person what their values are and they may struggle to answer concisely. We tend to have a vague notion of what we consider important in our life, but rarely consider the order of importance.”

The same could be said of our beliefs. How often do you really sit down and think about your values and your beliefs? Too often, the sad truth is that we don’t confront ourselves until we are faced with conflict – contradiction – from the outside world. 

The best way to navigate contradictions is to be true to what you believe – your values. As Anna stated: “We all face difficult decisions, but arming ourselves with knowledge and self-awareness makes this process less intimidating.”

Practicing what she preached, Anna herself recently came to the difficult decision to say goodbye to her “The Competitive Edge” column in Quarter Horse News. Having recently moved to Texas with her husband, cutting horse trainer Brad Mitchell, Anna decided to wholeheartedly devote herself to their business. While everyone at Quarter Horse News will miss her insightful wisdom and teaching, we wish her and Brad the best of luck in everything they do. Thanks, Anna, for eight great years!