The Unbearable Rightness of Contrariness

Posted on 19 December 2011

Anyone who is or has been a parent, grandparent, uncle, or aunt has some experience with the “terrible two’s,” the developmental period when toddlers begin to gain independence and learn new skills (like throwing dishes).  One of the byproducts of this burgeoning independence is the use of the answer “no” to virtually any question asked.  While this may be annoying, is it necessarily a bad thing?

Contrariness or negativity has many positive features to recommend it.  First of all, the “positive” is largely defined by its “negative.”  Good is defined by bad, happiness by sadness, wealth by poverty, and so forth.  Secondly, an idea, concept, or position that is contrary to another is often simply another way to perceive a problem, a minority opinion if you will.

Often branded as naysayers, contrarians have made no small contributions to the advancement of the world and civilization.   Just consider where the world of today might be without the telephone, thought by the mainstream to be “an unnecessary electrical device” at the time of its creation in the late 1800’s, or absent the contributions of unconventional thinkers like Albert Einstein.

In fact, most of the world’s greatest ideas and accomplishments owe their very existence to those who were the subject of ridicule, persecution, or worse at the hands of those in the majority or of those possessing “conventional wisdom.”  In this regard, much of human progress can be traced back to the fierce independence of an individual or distinct minority with the fortitude to express an unpopular idea or way of thinking.

So, the next time your toddler, or for that matter anyone, says “no” to convention, consider the alternative carefully, for that individual may ultimately spawn a counterrevolution that may change the way society thinks and behaves.  What is today a contrarian position may tomorrow become mainstream.

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One Response to “The Unbearable Rightness of Contrariness”

  1. Alba K. says:

    This article put me immediately in mind of Michaelangelo, Thoreau, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Good article!

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