Chapter 6 – The CONTRARian


Contrarians are a distinct group of people who frequently doubt the value or correctness of ideas and methods. They act as if their role on earth is to judge the worth of everything. They are especially devoted to detecting deception and dishonesty. While they appear to be intelligent individuals, they act more like they are stuck in perpetual intellectual rebellion, determined to challenge the authority of anyone and the usefulness of any suggestion.

It is the act of challenge that is important to them, not the substance of the argument. When presented with an answer to their questions or doubts, the habitual contrarian will immediately begin to wonder why this response is flawed or impossible to use. When they are informed that they are factually incorrect they continue their challenge using a different approach.

Most contrarians watch carefully how their comments are received to avoid going too far and losing the respect of others. Their goal is to create hesitancy, blur the facts, and add confusion to any discussion.  

One of the signs that someone truly is a contrarian is how they rush to defend other contrarians who are being attacked. If they hear that someone is accused of bias or bigotry, they will automatically sympathize with them and may offer a defense for their views. They seem unable to accept the opinions of others.

These people seem to specialize in discovering hidden flaws and weaknesses in the views of others. Their actual interest, however, is mainly to challenge the authority and certitude of anyone who offers an opinion about anything. Wherever possible, they will try to foster doubt or at least reduce enthusiasm for the comments they hear.

Unfortunately, many do not stop at disagreeing with others; they proceed to being disagreeable. They interfere with creating effective plans by promoting suspicion and hesitancy. Stimulating controversy and intellectual dissention is automatic for them as they leap over facts, logic, and  common sense to protest about allegedly faulty motives and methods. They enjoy stirring up controversy and disagreement.

Contrarians often pass for quite normal people who have ordinary lives and pleasant relationships with most people. However, they can become quite different in situations where they sniff the possibility that dogmatism and arrogance are present. They seem unusually challenged by anyone who is knowledgeable, confident. and authoritative. These qualities act as catnip to their eagerness to question those who declare clear distinctions between right and wrong or helpful and unhelpful.

On closer examination, contrarians are usually people with modest experience and intelligence but an expertise for creating confusion and uncertainty. If tested, they will reveal they know little about what is right, effective, or efficient beyond the usual platitudes. Instead, they specialize in criticizing what is offered. For example, they will declare that projects will  be too expensive, ineffective, or difficult. Methods proposed will be condemned as inadequate or too complex. The timeline for completion will be impossible.

Words of approval will rarely be heard without cumbersome conditions being added to proposed solutions.

Contrarians are the great troublemakers in society

The general perspective of contrarians often appears to be noble and wise because they seem genuinely concerned about the unfairness and injustices in society. Discovering examples of people suffering from various wrongs is exhilarating for them, as this provides new opportunities to express their special talents of condemnation of harmful ideas and people. Consequently, they like to pose as the rescuer of victims of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. Their real impact, however, is usually to increase resentment and divisiveness instead of helping anyone.

People with these distorted views of life often find each other and gather as organized groups to seek to legitimize their discontent and animosity. The linchpin of these movements is the assumption that fighting injustice is the best way to promote justice. They often become prominent activists in organizations that claim to oppose racism, misogyny, and bias against transgenders. They view their role as rescuers of the oppressed and their work is to expose and highlight abuse, not necessarily bring healing to anyone.

The blind spot of being a contrarian means they will obsess on what they can criticize. This focus of attention often results in neglecting what is good and helpful except as a distant goal. This irrational outlook and behavior often receives popular approval because this seems so appropriate to all contrarians. Even after the obvious impact of these groups is to increase conflict and alienation, contrarians will approve. They view these results as a validation of their beliefs. 

This mistaken orientation and beliefs about problems is difficult to explain to committed contrarians. However, the bankruptcy of concentrating on the alleged problem is illustrated by the work of gardeners. If we are trying to cultivate the best flowers, fruit, and vegetables, would we want to give all our attention to fighting weeds, bugs, and mold that can harm our plants? Or should our focus be to nurture everything that will promote healthy growth, such as appropriate amounts of water, fertilizer, weeding, and pruning? Which should be our priority? Yes, we need to do both, but which direction deserves our primary concern?

Consider how contrarians view the problem of racism. Shall we just be an anti-racist who condemns white people for oppressing colored people and demand that they make all the changes to correct this problem? Or shall we encourage everyone to practice respect and tolerance for all people? Must we highlight differences in skin color and culture and bigoted behavior? Or should we stress how we need to help each other with our common needs, struggles, and rewards we all share? Do anti-racists even think in terms of promoting tolerance and respect? Inquiring minds wonder about this.

We cannot reach goals we never define

When contrarians are asked about what they prefer and will champion, they launch again into detail about what they dislike. When asked again they want, they usually reply in terms of, “Well, not that!” and continue to talk about what they condemn.

It is important to catch the abuse of logic in this situation. Describing what is desirable in contrarian terms (I do not want this or that) means their concept of what is right is simply the opposite of what is wrong or undesirable. They may assume that they are truly clear about what they desire, but it is often stated in terms of generalities such as justice, fairness, equity, and kindness. Pragmatic details of what these terms mean in practical application are often totally lacking.

When the focus of our attention is on what we do not want, it means we have no well-defined objectives. Unfortunately, we cannot achieve goals that are not clearly described. This error in logic is like getting into a taxi and then telling the driver don’t take me to the garbage dump. The taxi driver will comply by not moving! Yet, this deranged approach seems to satisfy those obsessed with what is wrong and are failing to think through the consequences of their dysfunctional thinking.

Signs that we may be a contrarian

While contrarians are being described in literal terms, the common variety is far more modest in how they express themselves. Here are some of the habits they often display.

  • The initial response to suggestions or opinions is to wonder what is wrong with them. Most often, this inquiry is appropriately polite.
  • Contrarians leap on what they assume are inconsistencies or double standards. They tend to assume these discoveries will be sufficient to  neutralize or spread serious doubt about everything that has been  discussed.
  • Instead of promoting harmony and respect for others, contrarians are obsessed with detecting microaggressions and other faults. Once one is found, they will assume this single bad mark will be more significant than any constructive aspects already considered.
  • Contrarians champion diversity and will fight for equity but mainly because they know it challenges those in authority and disrupts the status quo. Harmony and cooperation are not important goals for them although they will imply that they are.
  • Contrarians dislike any attempt to impose rules on them, yet they love to stick it to others with special demands and regulations. Contrarians like to fight intolerance by creating guidelines about words that are forbidden and which labels are now preferred. Then, they assume this superficial change is a crucial contribution to the cause of justice and fairness.  
  • Instances of helpfulness and collaboration are often overlooked, and examples of redemptive action are ignored. Instead, they seem more interested in exposing and punishing the wrongdoers.
  • Attempts to describe effective answers and solutions are often feeble and vague or will include an abundance of comments about what not to do.
  • There is an amazing lack of curiosity about their own deficiency of knowledge or skills. Instead, they deflect any attention about their qualifications and, instead, concentrate on what is wrong with society and why other people are insensitive and abusive.

Signs of contrariness affecting our spiritual practices

Those who love to challenge authority will also have difficulty relating to the power and plans of our Creator. Any higher power will seem oppressive to a contrarian. Consequently, divine authority will often seem to threaten their beliefs. These are signs of how these threats are perceived.

  • Contrarians are often in a perpetual fight with God’s will and laws. Their concern is how God seems to oppose our comfort and interfere with what we want.
  • Most of the problems we have are blamed on the neglect or abuse   by others or God’s indifference to our well-being.
  • Contrarians, despite their casual atheism, have no problem calling on the wrath of God to punish bad people and create havoc for others. Their vindictiveness is apparent.
  • Worrying about our spiritual destiny occasionally occurs. However, this concern is usually overrun by the assumption that we are nearly always the innocent victim of others or the apparent indifference God has about our well-being.

How those who have this blind spot can affect society 

Individual contrarians can occasionally be a minor annoyance, but their collective effort to challenge traditional values and methods can profoundly impact society. For instance, consider their support of these trends.

  • The effort to challenge the authority of law enforcement has contributed to the movement to defund the police, decriminalize shoplifting, and abolish bail. All these “reforms” have had destructive consequences that disprove the validity of their assumptions that aggressive law enforcement causes crime and destroys the lives of the innocent.
  • The concept of restorative justice seeks to eliminate prison time for convicted criminals in favor of efforts to help people establish noncriminal occupations and lifestyles. There is minimal evidence that this works well.
  • Social advancement in K-12 education. Many challenge the traditional view that basic knowledge and skills must be mastered before students are promoted to the next grade. Instead, emotional comfort and confidence are considered more important. Academic failure would irreparably damage the self-esteem of students. Unfortunately, the goal of education is not about becoming a confident, well-adjusted moron.
  • The current lack of patriotism stems in part from the frequent condemnation of this country for the history of slavery and other instances of governmental corruption and mismanagement. Somehow, the fact that many of these problems have been eliminated or substantially reduced is ignored. Redemptive change does not seem to exist for these people as they are blinded by their zeal to challenge authority and traditions by focusing mainly on what they can condemn.   

What are the real issues behind the problem of contrariness?

Contrarians unconsciously equate being agreeable and cooperative with the humiliating act of being submissive and compliant with others. The aggressive effort to challenge the authority and ideas of others serves to bolster their ego and power to intimidate others. Forcing people to stop and defend their beliefs and opinions is perceived as victory by contrarians. They have been recognized! This has been their goal from the beginning.   

Underneath their frustration, contrarian individuals feel ignored or excessively controlled by others. Therefore, they object to trivial details just to make their presence known. They assume this is how they can establish their identity and authority. Unfortunately, this habit often puts them at war with reality and alienates them from others.

At a more subtle level, contrarians often fear clear rules, practical goals, and accountability. Their unconscious motive is to blur the boundaries of any policy or solution so endless discussions and negotiations are necessary. At a deeper level, they seek to create uproars that will distract people into being absorbed in petty issues. The resulting chaos distracts everyone, making it easier to control them. They do this by stirring up latent resentment about old injustices that have already, for the most part, been resolved. By inflaming these historical resentments, they sow more distrust and conflict and sabotage effective solutions. Contrarians consider this result to be a win for their side.

However, the constant effort to object, complain, and criticize buries contrarians in negativity that follows them everywhere. It will continue until they make major changes in their priorities and obsession with trying to challenge everything.

What can we do to heal the contrarian habit?

There are many parts to an effective plan to reform a major dysfunctional habit. The core of this habit lies in the dominant mindset and general perspective about our life and the world we live in. Specific techniques such as the practice of gratitude will be ineffective until we include the effort to upgrade the quality of our collective views, intentions, priorities, and attitudes. Otherwise, the general contempt for authority and desire to create an uproar will keep neutralizing our efforts. Here are the specific methods that can be helpful in reducing our habitual contrarian tendencies.

  • Become proactive! Stop defining what we want or need in contrarian terms, i.e., what we do not want or will not tolerate. Instead, our objective should be to concentrate on the details of what we can do to promote constructive communication, trust, and cooperation. Keep such plans practical, specific, and open to modification.
  • Make a deliberate effort to find something to approve and praise in the ideas and opinions we encounter. Stop specializing exclusively on what we view as wrong or defective.
  • Make it a rule that you cannot criticize the ideas of others more than five times each day. This includes your silent thoughts. There is already enough protesting and complaining in the world, and most if it has not helped much.
  • Set aside time to reflect on where you need to work on being more constructive in how you think, set healthy priorities, and are positive in your attitudes. Constant fault-finding is not a suitable approach.


Many intelligent people frustrate themselves because they know far less about what is right than what is wrong. This can become a major theme of their mindset and lifestyle, causing them to become too concerned about fighting what is wrong and inferior. As a result, they will fail to seek and embrace what is helpful. Everyone should be wary of what is undesirable, but this concern should not be the dominant theme of our life.

If you want to kill off the good possibilities in life, all you need to do is assume that every new idea or opportunity is flawed, too complex, or too troublesome to develop. However, if you want to expand your thinking and success, we must greet new possibilities with active interest in learning more about the advantages and benefits that are possible, not why they won’t work.

The gift packages we never open will also never bring us joy. Likewise, the new possibilities we reject will never bring us success. 

Ponder On These Points

  1. The universe is larger than we are. It has its own purpose and laws of operation. Our life will be better if we cooperate with it instead of opposing it. Get real!
  • Cooperation and collaboration are often essential if we want to lead a successful and fulfilling life. Constant disagreement is not the way to happiness. It only reveals our pettiness and small-mindedness.
  • We gain sympathy and respect by being able to express praise and acceptance for others. Our rejection and criticism will only attract the same to us.
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