The Power of Contrast

It is interesting that for most words, there are contrasts. As humans, we tend to understand things by measuring them against their alternative. For instance, there can’t be a counterfeit of a product unless there was first an original. How can you know someone is short without a comparison with someone tall? You will not appreciate the light unless you have experienced darkness. Subconsciously, comparisons dominate our communication within ourselves or with other people. Research has shown that several people go on social media platforms to compare themselves with others mentally. Another study found that people deliberately take pictures because they want to be appreciated and be seen as happy and successful. When someone says “I’m wealthy”, you assess the person by your mental standard of wealth. Supposing the individual posts a picture on social media, you will find your attention not focused on him or her, but on the setting of the photograph. Is the environment luxurious? Is there an expensive car in the picture? Was the photo taken in some exotic part of the world? Etc.

I learnt a valuable lesson in my drama class at the university, which gave me a clear perspective of how one can excel through the application of contrast. If you are directing a stage play, you can create emphasis for a particular character by making him do the opposite of what others are doing. For instance, if nine of ten actors on stage are sitting and one is standing, the attention of the audience is naturally directed to the one standing. The audience will typically think, “He must be special, or he has an important role”. And that is usually the case. Let’s reverse the arrangement. What happens when nine actors are standing, and one is sitting? The same as the first!

The simple logic of this principle is that people pay attention to the exception while they take the norm for granted. When you act like the crowd, you are lost in the crowd. The usual goes unnoticed while the exceptional is celebrated. There is always the temptation to rush into a business that everyone is into, which unfortunately will soon become saturated. It is typical to buy things that are in vogue, which unfortunately, will quickly become more expensive. In most cases, only the early adopters of a trend benefit maximally. Being exceptional is perhaps the most challenging thing to do. Not only will it require extra effort and sacrifice, but you are also likely to become the “enemy” of those who can’t understand why you must try so hard. Some may accuse you of trying to make them look bad, but hey, you have your life to live. If you want to become outstanding, be positively different.