Contrarians* unite! Over the years, I've realized that I am a contrarian by nature. I've been trying to organize what this means. Here's my first crack at a Contrarian's Creed**:
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.
This is my favorite time of the year. Auditions for the big winter musical are this week. It's stressful in some ways and a lot of work. In fact, for me, getting ready for auditions might be as demanding (or more) than the week of the performances, both emotionally as well as physically.
Still, in spite of that, I love this time, and here's why: right now somewhere around 70 kids in 5th through 8th graders are signed up to audition for the play. In a few more weeks, another 80 or so kids in grades 1-4 will audition. Every morning and afternoon, they are in my classroom checking the sign-up sheet, asking for tips or suggestions, working out problems and so forth. It's fun to have them stop by, and fun to see the wheels in their minds turning so hard.
They are busy learning songs and lines, and devoting all their considerable intelligence and energy to giving their part that extra bit of polish and shine so they'll be called back. All of that energy and excitement is almost tangible, and the school is crackling with it right now.
People wonder sometimes why I like teaching middle school so much, and this is one of the reasons. They are still young enough to be excited, and not be ashamed to admit it. Or to admit that they are nervous. Unlike older adolescents, they haven't quite figured out about masking their genuine emotions, and when they are excited, there's nothing like it.
I love the creativity and effort they spend preparing. One student is shy, so she and her friend worked out a duet and spent hours coming up with choreography. Another didn't want to sing a song, so she read a dramatic part from a book she's been reading. Others have spent literally weeks memorizing and polishing and practicing in the mirror so that every gesture is perfect.
This kind of hard work and creativity makes me proud and happy.
But most of all, auditions are exciting because, like any new beginning, the possibilities are endless. Instead of confronting difficult realities, everyone can dream a little and imagine how wonderful it would be to get that one really great part, and how fun it would be if their best friend was right up there with them and so on.
The great thing is that I don't have any idea who will end up getting what parts. I learned long ago that I can't predict this with any degree of accuracy, so I don't even try anymore. I just enjoy the ride and embrace the fact that there will be wonderful surprises.
Unlimited possibilities are not something we get a whole lot of in life. Most of us spend our time and energy balancing the ideal with the real, what we hoped for with what is possible. We learn to accept limitations and (hopefully) live happy lives.
This weekend, when the cast list is posted, it will be time to accept disappointment gracefully and start enjoying what we have instead of what we may have wanted.
But in world where our choices are so often circumscribed by cold realities, the warm sunlight of unlimited, unbounded possibilities is a wonderful place to be for a little while.
I've been reading a compelling new book by my friend, Rebecca Belliston. The series is called The Citizens of Logan Pond, and Book 1 is titled, Life. Books 2 and 3 will be titled: Liberty and Pursuit, respectively.
This series is set in a dystopian America in the very near future. In my mind, that is what makes it so chilling. The plausible nature of the calamity that leads to the dystopia, and the familiar setting give the story an extra poignancy.
I'll let Rebecca explain what the impetus was that got her started with this story:
"Six years ago, I got stuck on a single question: 'What if the end of civilization as we know it doesn't come from some huge war or catastrophe? What if it comes from the absence of one small thing: the dollar?' This question wouldn't leave me alone and has grown into this series."
Taking that question as a starting point, Rebecca has created a haunting story and setting that also allows her to explore the more human dimensions of such a disaster: "I also wanted to explore what kinds of things would survive if everything else is taken away: namely family, friendships, and love."
And explore these she does. Life works very well as a young adult adventure-romance. But it also has additional layers built in as the characters work through situations that allow the reader to think about some of these issues.
Rebecca did a wonderful job of building an ominous tone of suspense. Even when good things were happening, I couldn't relax because I knew the bad guys were off-camera, plotting and getting ready to do something, well, bad. This made it so I could never quite relax--which is exactly the situation in which the Citizens of Logan Pond find themselves.
Rebecca was able to create romantic tension without throwing in sex scenes, and she was able to create menace and tension, and show an ugly world without explicit violence. There were some moments that were very heartrending, though, and the lack of sex and violence did not reduce the emotional impact of the book.
As I said, the book is the first in a series. One other thing I appreciated is that Rebecca managed to end the book in a way that left some questions and issues to be resolved in the next book, but she also resolved the narrative arc in a way that doesn't leave the reader hanging.
You can learn more about Rebecca, and this series at her website.
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