Surviving and Maybe Thriving as a Contrarian

Tips for remaining authentic in a difficult time.

Posted Aug 13, 2020

 Gerd Altmann/Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay, Public Domain

Some people grew up in a family that valued conformity. Other families venerated rebellion or at least making the case for a contrarian position: “Well, on the one hand X, but on the other hand Y.”

Similarly, in some schools and colleges, students are pretty much expected to be conformist, to spout the orthodoxy. Perhaps you recall being tempted to make comments and write essays that comport with the teacher’s or professor’s bias. The tendency to reward conformity extends into adulthood, often in the workplace as well as in relationships.

It’s easier to go through life as a conformist. By definition, more people will agree with you. That both feels good and makes you more likely to make friends and to get ahead in your career.

But what if you tend to be contrarian? It is for those who are leading that more difficult life that I offer these thoughts:

First, how often does your contrarian statement not reflect your belief but rather is said to impress others that you can see another side? There's a place for that, for example, when you’re unsure of your position and would like to hear people’s reactions to the contrarian stance. But some people are contrarian mainly to impress.

On a case-by-case basis, assess the risk/benefit of expressing a contrarian view. Too often, perhaps especially in today’s polarized times, you may generate more heat than light, change no one’s mind, and maybe even harden their position. And you might endanger otherwise worthy relationships, professional and personal.

Obviously, you'll want to spend more time with people who honor or at least respect those who express out-of-step views. Maybe join MeetUps and other groups that tend to hold views that don't conform to the zeitgeist. Perhaps spend more time with friends, colleagues, and relatives who valorize that independent thinking of yours. Because today’s ethos tends to be broadly conformist within a given locale, you may need to reach back to people who were in your life some years ago.

Should you put your contrarian thoughts in writing? That gives you more time to hone your arguments and wording. Should you be bolder or more tentative? Another advantage of writing is that your audience is more likely to consider your viewpoint if they needn't respond instantly, as would be the case if you presented your ideas verbally. Perhaps blog, create YouTube videos, write articles or even a book. Even if the book doesn’t get published, writing a book teaches you a lot, clarifies your thinking, and who knows, you may even get published. Worst case, if you like your book, you can self-publish on Amazon and give copies to trusted friends and family. If that’s too ambitious, how about just sharing your thoughts in an email to a trusted friend or two, or even just jot notes in your journal?

Or give talks at libraries, religious institutions, or service clubs that have speakers, for example, Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions. Or even run for office. Even if you lose the election, many more people will have heard your contrarian positions. Just have a thick skin—politics can indeed be vicious.

The takeaway

As mentioned, it’s easier to go through life as a conformist, but the world is better if it has at least a small percentage of contrarians. If you’re one, yes, pick your spots, but it would be a shame if you homogenized into the vast monotonic chorus. Perhaps one or more of this article’s suggestions will enable you to maintain your distinctive voice.

I read this aloud on YouTube.