I am not a contrarian because I'm grumpy, or because I think I'm smarter than everyone. Rather, I am keenly aware of my own human folly and frailty. Therefore, it worries me when other people and new ideas charge blithely ahead, undaunted and untroubled by any apparent awareness that human nature makes folly, error, and vice our common default setting.
A contrarian doesn't think he or she is smarter than anyone else. However, contrarians are alarmed and annoyed when other people, especially those in power, refuse to return that compliment. One is not a contrarian because they are grumpy. Rather, a contrarian is grumpy because so many influential people do such stupid things with neither self-awareness nor meaningful opposition.
Consequently, contrarians mistrust trends, bandwagons, and crusades. This is true regardless of which ideological camp originates the crusade, whether the bandwagon is social, political, cultural, or personal, or whether the trend is serious or light-hearted. Contrarians think that the emperor will almost always have no clothes, and feel that someone has to state that fact, even if it makes others uncomfortable or angry.
Contrarians are not reflexively anti-everything. They can be convinced of a leader's goodness or an idea's utility. They are skeptical, but not necessarily cynical and can cherish deeply-held beliefs and ideals. But the burden of proof is both heavy and likely perpetual. A contrarian must have evidence, probably on a continuing basis, before going along with something--and what he or she accepts as proof will likely vary from person to person.
While they may seem cranky, contrarians are not necessarily harsh or mean on a personal level. Rather, awareness of human nature leads contrarians to a generally sympathetic stance towards human weakness, inclining them to tolerance and compassion in personal dealings. Contrarians are perfectly happy to live and let live, allowing others to navigate by whatever stars they choose to follow. However, the moment someone attempts to mandate or legislate compliance with their own path or philosophy, or the moment a fad or trend grows, contrarians react with vehemence.
Thus, a pardox: contrarians respond to would-be leaders and shiny, new ideas with an unflinching, vocal skepticism matched only by the kindness and charity they feel they owe all humans.
As with all human beings, individual contrarians are prone to be inconsistent on occasion and are likely to exhibit some traits in greater degree than others.
*How do you know if you are a contrarian? I suggest that you cannot be a contrarian if you use jargon and buzz-words with a straight face, or if you sit through a political speech regardless of party affiliation and find yourself agreeing (or disagreeing) with everything. Total agreement or disagreement makes you a partisan and that is totally contrary to a contrarian. A lot of wannabe contrarians are only contrarian about opposing ideologies. That doesn't count. You have to quibble with all ideologies.
You are not a contrarian if you can easily accept decisions from authority figures of any ideological stripe, or if you hold a majority opinion on any issue without feeling severe discomfort. If you go to a meeting where management presents sweeping new changes and you walk out motivated and cheering, you are not a contrarian. Also, if you love TED talks, you are probably not a contrarian, although there is some latitude on this and context matters a great deal. For example, if you find a TED talk on your own, that would be permissible. But if you have to watch one at work or you see one go viral, most contrarians would be annoyed.
**I do recognize the irony in having a creed for contrarians. I need to find a better term. But the term "creed" gave some nice alliteration.