Can You Be a Humble Contrarian?

In my last blog post, I celebrated Aaron Sorkin's willingness to flaunt convention. In particular, he ignores the advice to have realistic dialogue and instead uses his characters to speak the truth as he sees it. And based on the fact that most TV writers struggle to get one show while he continues to find success, bucking the status quo seems to work out well for Aaron Sorkin.

But is he nice? At least in this interaction, no. He was an arrogant, condescending sexist pig to a young woman interviewing him. "Listen here, Internet girl," he told the entertainment reporter for Canada's second largest newspaper. “It wouldn’t kill you to watch a film or pick up a newspaper once in a while.”

Arrogance is the biggest danger facing the contrarian. Because if you're going to stand up to sacred cows, question conventional wisdom, buck the status quo, resist dogma and challenge orthodoxy, you're setting yourself apart. And it can be easy for the world to think -- and for you to think -- that you're setting yourself above.

But you don't have to. There are examples of humble contrarians -- look back to the heros of civil disobediance, like Rosa Parks and Ghandi. For more run-of-the-mill examples, think of your coworker who politely opts out of the weekly meeting but doesn't need to broadcast her decision as couragously sticking it to the man. 

Maybe you don't want to resist the tug of the masses without calling attention to herself. Maybe you don't want to go your own way because you don't want to seem arrogant. You're too humble to be the grunting hero. I hope you do go your own way, because we need more examples of humble contrarians.

Let's make room in our workplaces for the quiet radical.