January 19, 2009 9:31 AM   Subscribe

How do I satiate my desire to be different while not being a difficult person?

I've been told by many that I am a contrarian and I like to think I've turned it into something charming. Lately, I've been feeling very insecure and feel like I'm not only being contrary but being difficult. Sometimes I feel like I am narrow-minded and feel like it's making life hard on the people around me (myself included). Do I need to change? How can I be who I want to be while considering others?
posted by defmute to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's not a lot to go on here, but here's an idea: you can be a quiet contrarian. It's one thing to disagree with others' philosophy or lifestyle, but quite another to tell them that you disagree. Keep your opinions to yourself until somebody asks--then you've got a green light to, in a considered and mature fashion, articulate your dissenting viewpoint.
posted by dbarefoot at 9:39 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You want to be unique like everyone else. You can be a contrarian and not be belligerent. Thinking and acting differently does not mean you have to impose your views on anyone. Tone down the rhetoric if that is what is making life hard on those around you. If you are just being different to be different and it is causing angst such as refusing to go see a movie everyone else wants to see just because you want to be different then you need to grow up and change.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:42 AM on January 19, 2009

Instead of trying to "be different" all the time, why don't you try to be something in particular? Stick to a particular aesthetic or philosophy or political perspective or whatever, learn about it, do it right, and advocate it? If you have the passion and dedication to follow through on this, trust me, you WILL be different than most people.

The thing about being contrarian is that ultimately, it seems just as vapid as conformity - you're just taking all the things everyone else thinks and negating them. That's not exactly Nobel prize-level intellect. And the reason it gets under people's skin is not that you're ROCKING THEIR WORLD by challenging their assumptions, it's that your challenge is exactly the same, and no more insightful, from one time to the next.

Instead, adopt a firm perspective on a thing or a range of things, and learn to defend it and articulate it really well. Again, you will stand out if you do this, to the people who really know and care about you. You will not always disagree with everyone about everything - you may even (gasp!) blend in, from time to time in certain contexts. But you will be enriching your own life and the lives of those around you, rather than pissing them off.
posted by rkent at 9:53 AM on January 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

Can you give us some examples of how you are contrarian in a charming way? I can't quite picture it.

You might also put a finer point on "contrarian" just to make sure we're speaking the same language. I'm pretty sure I'm contrarian (perhaps as a perceived subset of "original" or "independent"), but I think it mostly just wears on people after a while. By contrarian I mean taking a position against the majority opinion on something. It's sort of like I'm automatically devil's advocate. You can always count on me to go against the grain or disdain what's going on and go do my own thing. I sometimes try to understand something better by advocating a contrary position and then seeing how it does or does not hold up against the mainstream position (and then adjust my position based on the results as warranted), but often I think I do it in an I'm-not-a-sheep kind of way, which implies that most other people are in fact sheep. That could be kind of insulting if people see it as that kind of arrogance.

This guy talks about different understandings of contrarian, for example, citing a mainly negative impression (this is really the only useful paragraph):

Addressing a group of faculty recently, I asked them to define contrarian. Some thought contrarians were “oddballs.” Others said “curmudgeons,” or people who “go against the flow.” I like to think of contrarians as finding opportunities that everyone else has passed by. They are the ones who discover the overlooked Van Gogh painting in the garage sale discard bin. Contrarians take the road less traveled, and that, as the poet said, makes all the difference.
posted by Askr at 9:55 AM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Agreed with the "think contrarian, act tolerant" theme here. Ask yourself if there's a reason that you're offering your opposed opinion instead of just realizing the difference internally. Playing devil's advocate because you see a real risk? Seems okay. Injecting your "outside of the box" viewpoint to show others that you see things differently? Just being difficult.

If you can't help yourself, I find it interesting (and distracting, in a good way) to instead think about why someone views something so opposite of me. Also, remember that if you change everyone else's mind to agree with you, then you're no longer different.
posted by jsmith77 at 9:56 AM on January 19, 2009

How can I be who I want to be while considering others?

Try to be kind first, and unique second. It's not about faking that you agree with people or pretending not to have an opinion. It's about thinking first of your conversation partner and trying to communicate above all that you respect (and like) them, regardless of the topic. You may need to re-learn how to express a dissenting opinion without sounding like you're attacking or belittling the people with whom you disagree. If someone asks your opinion, you may need to preface your response with "well, I actually feel really strongly about that..."--give the person fair warning, in other words.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:59 AM on January 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

Periodically and regularly exercise anti-contrarianism, especially in social
situations. Look for ways in which you agree with people. It increases
other people's comfort around you. It will get easier in time, as you practice.

Realize that automatic-devils-advocate is required and useful for the
discussion phase, but not so good for the consensus decision phase.

Understand that most people see dissent or disagreement as aggression
to one degree or another. Think about the response to your position before
you speak.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:08 AM on January 19, 2009

Stop saying, "Yeah, but..."
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:11 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been told by many that I am a contrarian and I like to think I've turned it into something charming.

Train wreck ahead.

If you're doing something because you think it's charming... well... it's probably not.
posted by rokusan at 10:11 AM on January 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

Sometimes I feel like I am narrow-minded and feel like it's making life hard on the people around me (myself included). Do I need to change?


First of all, defining yourself as "contrarian" is really just a way of failing to define yourself. Who you are changes with the shifting winds of the people around you. There are quite a few people who live their lives this way, mostly teenagers, and I have yet to meet one who was interesting.

Second, having a narrow mind does in fact make life difficult for everyone. Accepting multiple points of view as valid is hard; Believing that you alone have discovered the one true way is, once again, overdone and boring.

How can I be who I want to be while considering others?

Stop trying to define yourself as a negative. If you continue you to define yourself in opposition to the people around you, you will continue to be in opposition to the people around you. Simple as that.
posted by tkolar at 10:42 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you consider other people you will actually engage with what they say, rather than reflexively disagreeing with it.

I know of one man who is a self-professed contrarian, and who thinks he's charming, and by god he's a tool and figure of much mockery.

I'd wager you don't actually want to be different for the sake of it, you want to be the same as a certain group of people you just haven't met yet. But if you continue on this path, when you do meet them, you'll be so contrarian they won't want to speak to you.
posted by bonaldi at 10:57 AM on January 19, 2009

Best answer: There's much good advice here which I'd sum up by saying there's no value on being different just to be different*. And if you are genuinely different, that doesn't make you better (or worse) than anyone else. So make sure your differences don't come across as cries for attention (different to be different) or elitism (my differences make me better than you).

(*and I can't think of a single "different" person I've ever met who is different in a truly unique way. Sure, they're different from the conservative people around them, but they're generally different in some template sort of way: they're punks or goths or hippies or whatever. How original.)

Assuming you've managed all that, you may have to deal with a hard truth: some differences are not tolerated by most people. We try to avoid that fact and pretend that as long as you respect the views of others, they'll necessarily respect yours. That's not true -- not all the time. We try to act as if people who don't respect innocent quirks are rare assholes. That's not true either. Nice, smart people often have limits.

It's not fair.

The world is not fair.

So what can you do? First, deal with making yourself a respectful, non-show-offy persons, as described above. Once you've done that, you've done what you can to make normal people treat you well.

Your leftover eccentricities will then be your problem. You have a couple of options: you can give them full play (not in a show-offy way, but if whatever it is comes up in conversation, you can be honest about your contrarian views) and let the chips fall where they may. You can rest assured that you've done everything you can to be fair and that the ball is in other-people's court. Some people will avoid you. You will learn who your real friends are.

Or you can go into the closet. This may not be healthy, but to be honest, it's what I often do. I have some opinions about religion and eduction which I feel very passionately about -- but which tend to turn (nice, smart, otherwise-fair) people off. The older I got, the less I am into being a pariah because of these views, so I just shut up about them. It's irritating and unfair, but it doesn't kill me. There are other subjects to talk about.

The trick is to shut up without bottling up. Which means you need an outlet. The web is your friend. Every oddball view has a forum. Find a few freaks who are like you and vent to them. And there are people out there who are truly unflappable. Find them. (I once posted a long "strictly platonic" ad on Craigslist expressing all my oddball views. I got many positive responses, some of which led to long correspondences and could have led to real-world friendships had I wanted that. The negative of this is that you may learn you're not as special a snowflake as you think you are.)

One final tip: emotion is the common denominator. If you have some odd opinion and you just present it as an intellectual idea, dogmatic stance or quirky style choice, friends may be unable to connect with it. But your quirk must stem from some recognizable human experience: you dress the way you do because you were forced to wear a school uniform as a child; you're an atheist because you were abused in church. Whatever. If you let people in on the emotion behind the quirk, they will be much more likely to be able to connect with you than if you just wear your quirk like a befuddling costume.

This is why we love novels about quirky characters. It's amazing when a writer lets you get inside the head of an eccentric and really GET why she's the way she is. Let others in like that.

And have a sense of humor about yourself. Why do I have the opinions I have? Because of this, that and the other logical reasons -- and also because I'm a nutcase.
posted by grumblebee at 11:12 AM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you mean contrarian in the sense that you have an innate ability to take umbrage at things that the vast majority of people think are great and to not get all that riled up about things that polite society deems offensive then I know where you're coming from. I've learned to keep my mouth shut except when I know that I'm with like-minded people. If you can be charming about this, more power to you. Many people who are like this I find insufferable, even when I often agree with what they're saying.
posted by ob at 11:45 AM on January 19, 2009

If you mean contrarian in the sense that you have an innate ability to take umbrage at things that the vast majority of people think are great...

I'm unlucky this way. I HATE it when people get mass-fixated on a topic. I have no idea why this irritates me so much, and I have no idea how to stop it irritating me. It can even be something I care about. I think I just have a low threshold for hearing the same thing over and over.

Currently, it's Obama. I support him. I am happy he's president. But it drives me batshit how all I hear and see is Obama, Obama, Obama. His presidency hasn't even begun and I'm tired of it already. One of the most fun parts of the week for me is reading the NY Times Magazine. This week the entire issue was nothing but photos of Obama's cabinet. Arg!

This is exactly the sort of thing that I generally keep quiet about. Everyone I know is very emotional about Obama (and I share some of that emotion, despite my irritation). I won't make any friends by bringing up how tired I am of all the hoo-ha. I have choice: I can vent and piss people off. Or I can clam up, find outlets where I can, and keep the peace.

I get the same way every Sept 11th. I'm a New Yorker, and I was as traumatized as anyone by the attack on the Towers (for a while, I worried my wife had been killed -- and I used to work in the Towers). But each time we approach an anniversary of the event, I start feeling weary. If you're not the sort of person who finds solace from traditions, your life is simply going to have some trials in it. And you have to be very careful about what you say, because for most people, traditions are deeply meaningful. You simply have to respect that or be a pariah.
posted by grumblebee at 12:03 PM on January 19, 2009

Best answer: If you're trying to project uniqueness by purposefully being a contrarian, well - doesn't that just suck the energy out of you? And in the end, it's not the real you but a you fashioned as a reaction to your surroundings (like you're living in Bizarro World).

I live with one (not by choice) and it is hell, to be honest. He is antagonistic, unpredictable and really terribly intolerant of others. That's his way of dealing with his neuroses; we will never be friends and I avoid talking to him for the most part.

There is a way to debate intelligently without bulldozing others but it sounds like you're grappling with an identity crisis.

So in that case, the solution is to spend more time with yourself, to investigate the world (read, participate, push yourself into uncomfortable situations) and to live life. Eventually you will get a feel for your place in the world and you will be happy in your own skin, contrarian or not.
posted by HolyWood at 3:20 PM on January 19, 2009

Being a contrarian isn't charming. It's annoying most of the time. I work with a "contrarian" and only the other, much milder, contrarian in the office can stand them. Everyone has a story of the contrarian offending them.
You aren't too clear on what you mean but the way I think of it, it usually goes something like this:

Other Person: I like X
You: X is not good because of Y.


Other Person: I believe X
You: X is wrong because of Y.

Unless there's some harm that could come from their belief or something usually considered quite terrible (like they say, "Man I love giving my baby vodka! or "Genocide isn't so bad."), you have the option of tact. For example, if someone says they love tuna sandwiches, you don't need to talk about how you think hey're smelly and gross. Many people consider that sort of thing quite rude.
posted by fructose at 4:01 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the consideration of certain others, such as family and close friends, does make you who you are - posing 'being me' against 'considering others' is a false dichotomy in some ways because considering those others on a dumb everyday, empathetic level is going to form a large bulwark of your unconscious considerations, those things which will percolate into your identity and more conscious thoughts about how you relate to other peeps.
posted by doobiedoo at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2009

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