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Don’t read this column

| Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Welcome, my fellow contrarian.

I hope I’ve upset you by my use of the word “fellow.” I dislike it as well, but I’m afraid it was unavoidable in this case. I could say “Welcome, independent mind, one unlike every other reading this same text,” but that wouldn’t have quite the same ring.

Let me guess: Were you that kid who always raised their hand to disagree with the teacher in fourth grade? The one who loved to argue and probably grew tired of hearing adults say “You’d make a good lawyer”? Maybe you even read Tom Sawyer and strongly identified with his rebellious character? Or perhaps your friends make fun of you for disliking something completely mainstream — say movies or Snapchat? 

If even one of these questions sounds like you, you’re probably not a contrarian. However, if you found yourself denying each question and jumping through mental hoops to prove your independence, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re not a contrarian, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with one. Here’s how the conversation might look.

Person 1: Do you like Notre Dame?

Contrarian: No.

Person 1: What do you dislike about it?

Contrarian: I never said I disliked Notre Dame.

Person 1: …

Contrarian: Do you not believe that one can simultaneously express that they do not like Notre Dame without being fully within the camp of disliking it? 

Frustrating? Contrarians sure hope so.

If you’ve made it this far, I figure I might as well share some of my own ruminations on the roots and value of contrarianism.

This is not to change the way you think or alter your independent ideas. It exists only to serve your potential interest for more information on the subject. If you have no interest, I would suggest you stop reading, but I would never tell you what to do. After all, that’s something only you can know.

You’re really still here? I guess I can share some subpar philosophical ruminations. Let’s start from the beginning. 

In many cases, acting or thinking contrary to what others believe stems from skepticism. Much like skeptics, contrarians doubt popular opinion, voice alternate viewpoints and question authority. Ironically, this very skepticism often originates from an immense respect for the truth. At least that’s the case if you ask Socrates, but I don’t know I wouldn’t take his word for it.

I happen to think this world benefits from skepticism and contrarian opinion. Feel free to disagree. Skepticism is often healthy because it tests common knowledge. It assumes nothing to be true and demands the highest proof to accept something as true. In a world where each person is assaulted with often-conflicting information, a contrarian mindset allows the user to strip ideas down to their bare bones and see which is actually most likely true. 

And while I know a contrarian will never admit it, this approach actually allows one to agree more strongly with those ideas that have been tested. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that other people (say politicians or lobbyists or salespeople) have an incentive to deceive you or make you agree with them. A contrarian perspective has the potential to guard against these traps because it forces each person to evaluate every idea independently of what others think or believe.

Strangely enough, consensus itself requires independent conclusions and cannot be reached by group obligation. Each person must agree on the topic independently. For instance, scientific consensus that a certain vaccine prevents disease originates from several independent studies.

However ironic, collaboration doesn’t actually work unless each person brings something different to the table. Conformity strangles creativity and collaboration. Each person can find their greatest strength in the way they think differently from others. No one person has the same fingerprint, the same memories or the same goals. I happen to think that’s both useful and beautiful. 

So with this in mind, keep breaking the rules and thinking for yourself. But not because I told you to.

You can contact Maggie at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Maggie Eastland

Maggie Eastland is an Observer Assistant Managing Editor majoring in Finance and minoring in Journalism, Education, and Democracy at Notre Dame. When she's not writing business news, you can find her reading a book, going for a run, or carrying around a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

Contact Maggie