“Contrary” can mean obstinate or disagreeable or difficult, but what it literally means is to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. We like the noun form of the word — "contrarian" — because it seems to describe someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.
In recent years, the word has been used chiefly in financial or economic contexts, as in one who attempts to profit by investing in a manner that differs from the conventional wisdom, or makes decisions that contradict prevailing trends, as in buying securities that are unpopular at the time.
Polls show that most Americans think that, societally and culturally and politically as well as economically, this country is not going in the right direction, so it would follow that there is a widespread and growing need for more contrarian views — and for translating the best of them into actions.
Some of us seem to become more contrarian in the second half of our lives. Consciously considering good contrarian positions can be an interesting exercise that, if nothing else, makes us more discerning, more observant, more independent-minded and better critics. Let us share a few of our personal contrarian feelings:
We’re a bit contrarian on economics. We don't think it is more spending that strengthens our economy; we think it is more saving. America is a debtor nation that fails to balance its budget, and that encourages our individual citizens to fail in the same ways.
We are somewhat contrarian on education. We think our schools generally teach "convergent learning," where students are rewarded by getting the "right" answer. Instead, there should be more "divergent learning," where students learn to ask more good questions and to come up with unique alternative answers.
We are a little contrarian on globalization and immigration. We think we should worry less about protecting America and Americans and "our" jobs and "our" superiority and instead embrace the emerging global economy that will ultimately equalize (and increase) opportunities for all of God's children. We should embrace an "abundance mentality" and understand that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants in this country, and we should focus more on making legal immigration easier and less on keeping everyone out.
We’re contrarian on "big business as usual" and love the few brave, enlightened companies that get their employees home for dinner with their families and give new moms better maternity leave and part-time or job-sharing options and understand that unless people's families are OK, they will never be ultimately productive as employees.
We’re contrarian on politics. We don't like political action committees or pork or polls. We think our campaigns are way too long and wonder if every citizen of every age should have a vote, with parents casting the votes of their children under 18. (Imagine how much more politicians would then try to do more for parents and families!)
And we’re at least a bit contrarian on lifestyle. We’ve always tried to travel with our kids and to "not let school get in the way of their education." And we had a lot of kids and tried to raise them to be part of the solution rather than thinking we should have few or no kids because they might be part of the problem.
Today, being a bit of a contrarian just seems to make a lot of sense. As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don't want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.
Good contrarian thinking often begins when a person asks the right questions. What matters most? What lasts longest? What brings real happiness?
If the world prioritizes achievements above relationships, then we ought to be contrarians. If the world prioritizes momentary pleasure above lasting commitments, we ought to be contrarians. If the world judges success by materialistic measures, we ought to be contrarians. And if the world says, “Anything goes and morality doesn’t matter anymore,” we definitely ought to be contrarians.