I love these examples the Urban Dictionary gives for one of their definitions of a contrarian. This definition, and these examples, fittingly, the first one that came up in my search, fit the myriad of contrarians in my life to a tee.
Here are the examples the Urban Dictionary folks give:
Friend: I’ve got some ice cream, you want vanilla or chocolate?
Contrarian: Um, do you have strawberry?
Friend: I love indie rock, you heard of these guys?
Contrarian: Yeah, but they’re not really that indie, though.
Friend: I guess you’re too contrary to vote Democrat or Republican, right? So, what, Libertarian? Green Party? …Socialist Party?
Contrarian: Of course not, I don’t think that any formal political party is a suitable representation of an individual’s views.
Having contrarians in your daily life, at your dinner table, in your workplace, and in your community organization can be maddening at times. If you recognize this definition or these examples and you can start rattling off names, you are in good company my friend. However, have you ever taken a step back from the hair pulling, head shaking and frustration to really appreciate these creatures? Have you thought what life would be like without them? I have.
In a world devoid of contrarians, society would lose a great deal of its color and its contrast. We would all be so damn agreeable and self-effacing or just plain ambivalent that we might just fade away into the gray nothingness of our own ceaseless accommodation to each other and to society (ever seen the movie Wall-e?). In a world devoid of contrarians, where we don’t have people who take the opposing viewpoint, seemingly just for the sake of taking it, who would force us to challenge our assumptions and biases? In this deceptively blissful world, where we all strive to make our children comply, which kid would show our kids what it is like to joyfully and blissfully flout all the playground norms and try daring and brave things? How exactly, would we be forced to understand and reflect upon how we are being taken advantage of by institutions or people around us? Would everyone simply order only what was described on the menu with no variations? Who would tell us we are being cheated out of our God-given rights and freedoms or our 39.5278 cents? Who would remind us we are living in a bubble of “passionate” agreeability?
I could give you endless examples of the ways that a world without these folks would be less vibrant, less meaningful and just plain boring, but if I’ve done my job, you are already thinking of the ways the contrarians in your life have pushed you out of your comfort zone. If I’ve made you reflect on what life would be like without the contrarians you know and love, you already see a world where you don’t want to live. A world where you would likely fail to thrive and grow.
My advice to you is the same thing I’ve been coaching myself to do. Especially when I am ready to lose my mind over something they say or do or I feel somehow injured by these people (this is typically only due to my own frailties, i.e. I can’t always handle the truth, ala A Few Good Men.) I advise you to learn to appreciate these people. Learn from them. You are not going to agree with them (much of the time). I do not think that is the point of their existence anyway. I think they are there to make us stretch. They are there to make us see life from another point of view. They are there, simply, to make us better.
Thank you, contrarians, in my life. I am sure you will disagree with the way I wrote this article, some or all of my thoughts and opinions, or maybe even say it makes absolutely no sense to you, but that is not the takeaway. The takeaway is: thank you for being you, keep doing that (as if anyone could stop you) and I love you.