Why do we admire people that oppose change?
Every time I scroll through twitter I always see posts about people frustrated with people that are commonly labelled as “contrarian”. A contrarian is a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion or current practice. Right now if I scroll through twitter it seems almost that contrarianism has become the norm rather than something opposing the norm. If its being against the vaccine or wearing masks, now against people who are vaccinated not wearing the mask. It’s very difficult to keep up with what is the norm against the norm. There are many examples of this, you don’t need to look to twitter. Think “Into the Wild”, or The Rebels from “Star Wars”. People going against the mainstream are seen as courageous heroes. People who have stood up and stood out for resisting a change imposed on them. But what is driving me to write this post is a question I would like to get more understanding of: Why are people so proud to be contrarian? And: Why are we inspired by people who resist to go with the times?
Perhaps when looking at the alternative we understand contrarianism more, which is conformity. We see conformity as the blind adjusting of one’s behaviors and judgements to what others are doing. It is an alteration to others usually driven by insecurity or uncertainty on how to act oneself. We see it as weak because it doesn’t stem from reflection or insight, rather from neglecting oneself in order to conform to others.
Contrarians on the other hand, we see as independent, confident, self-aware people that know what they want. As humans, we are attracted to this certainty and strength. The thing is though, often contrarians need to reject something in order to create and get a better understanding of themselves. It’s not that know where they stand, but they define their stance simply by opposing something. Without being able to oppose something, their inner self, their beliefs as well as their place in the world is not as easily defined. The line is blurrier. Additionally, sometimes opposition comes out of a place of fear. Fear of being hurt by the change or left behind. Or being uncertain if you are able to handle the change being forced upon you.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been many stories throughout humanity where contrarians can be argued to have been some kind of martyrs for a good cause. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior or Gandhi are well known for having opposed the status norm and we are ever thankful they were. We as a society owe them and rightfully look up to them.
But, also contrarians were leaders of cults or dictators in the past. Contrarianism can be as dangerous as it is vital for human progress. And I am not saying it is wrong to look up to contrarians or want to be one yourself. I do want to highlight the importance of checking in why someone is being a contrarian. Is it on the basis of benefiting themselves or others? Is it on the premise of wanting to do more good in this world or of wanting to strengthen their place in it? What are the motivations behind it and also, what are yours for perhaps being conform?
The most important thing is to always question. Question does not mean opposing. It is finding your self before you decide to oppose or to conform. Because both are ok, as long as you have the right reasons.