In the roughly three years I’ve had this blog, I’ve published a few posts that some people have considered a little controversial. At least that’s the general consensus I got from the blast of negative comments I received.
A few of those times were completely unintentional, but admittedly some were deliberately provoking. And in those cases, I would often wait, knowing that someone out there would soon send me a nasty email or comment regarding what I had just said.
It might be weird to say, but it’s kind of a rush.
But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the first negative comment I received really hurt. I put a lot of thought behind my arguments and people were happy trying to rip them to shreds. Yet through all the feedback, both good and bad, I learned a valuable lesson. You can’t always hold yourself back – you have to be willing to say controversial things.
The Perks of Controversy
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that it’s completely necessary to be controversial or outrageous all the time. What’s good is the willingness to do it. It’s important to have the courage and bravery to be able to say things that others wouldn’t.
I was talking to a guy at a party once who gave me an opinion about what he thought was going on in the economy. I disagreed. Furthermore, a few other people who overheard supported my position. Before I knew it, he had backtracked over his old position and embraced the new one. He buckled way too quickly under group pressure to conform.
Could you imagine what it would be like if group consensus was never challenged? Everyone would go with popular opinion simply because that’s what is generally accepted as true. Weirdly enough, I would love to have heard more about that guy’s opinion, but he caved in before he could say any more about it.
I know what it’s like to be on the other side too, being in a group of 10-12 people who all completely agree on something that you vehemently disagree with. And I can tell you, it’s a scary thing to defend your position against all those other people.
Admittedly, there are times when I’m wrong. I’m perfectly okay with that – after all, I’m human. But I always bring some unique and interesting perspective to the group that none of them had considered before. And because of my arguments, I often turn people to my point of view.
But bringing people around to your point of view is only one of many reasons to be willing to say something controversial or outrageous. When you have that willingness to do it, you:
• Have the courage to stand up for your convictions
• Challenge group consensus
• Make conversations more interesting
• Think for yourself
• Show confidence in your opinion making skills
• Share unique and new viewpoints
Think For Yourself
A short story by Hans Christian Anderson called “The Emperor Has No Clothes” highlights just how important it is to have this willingness to go against what others are saying. I think we’re all familiar with the story. An emperor hires two swindlers to make him fancy clothes that they claim are invisible to anyone who is unfit for their position or simply stupid.
Of course, there really are no clothes, but no one wants to be the first person to point that out. When the king goes out to display his fancy wardrobe, a little boy cries out that he’s wearing nothing. Soon everyone is saying it.
It took a little boy’s courage to stand up against group consensus to state the obvious.
There’s more than just a fairy tale behind this. This phenomenon of conforming to other opinions has a link to real-world problems that are both scary and surprising.
A psychological experiment was done in the 1950s called the Asch conformity experiment. In a series of tests, participants were shown three lines of different sizes. A group of people were asked one by one to match a corresponding line to one of those three lines. The matches are simple and obvious.
Everyone but one participant was in on the experiment. It was set up so all the people in on the experiment would unanimously give an incorrect answer. The last person to answer would be the person being monitored.
Researchers wanted to see if the person would conform or go against group consensus. Surprisingly, 75% of the people who were monitored for conformity went along with group opinion at least once even though the answer was obviously wrong.
When asked later why they went along with the group, almost all the participants said they knew all the others had given the wrong answer, they just didn’t want to face ridicule by the rest of the group.
The Willingness to Be Different
You can’t be that person who is afraid of being ridiculed by others simply because you have a different opinion. It can take a lot of courage to speak up especially if you’re the only one who is dissenting.
But after you’ve done it a few times, you build up self-confidence in your opinions and in your ideas that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Plus it’s good to speak up when you think differently. After all, the emperor should know when he’s not wearing any clothes.
photo credit: carolyntiry