How to Be a Successful Contrarian

An adolescent and his mother have some things to teach us about taking a stand

Contrarians are as American as the Fourth of July
How to Be a Successful Contrarian
(Fei Meng)
Jeff Minick

Anyone who has spent much time with kids has likely met a contrary child, the strong-willed toddler who refuses to eat green vegetables, or the third grader who argues like a trial lawyer about everything from his bedtime to the clothes he’s supposed to wear to school.

For some sulky teenagers, contrary might as well be their middle name.

On the other hand, contrarians are also as American as the Fourth of July. These are the folks who swim against the tide of popular opinion, who not only march to the beat of a different drummer, but often in the opposite direction that the parade is headed. Some of these contrarians seem born to their estate, while others are molded by infringements on their rights and beliefs, or by an egregious personal attack. Well-known American contrarians include such figures as Henry David Thoreau, Harriet Tubman, William F. Buckley, and most recently, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. And what, after all, was the American Revolution if not a revolt of contrarians against British rule?

To this roll call of recusants, we can now add a 12-year-old Colorado schoolboy, Jaiden Rodriguez.
A student at the Vanguard School in Colorado Springs, Jaiden was sent home for displaying a Gadsden flag emblem on his backpack. This is the Revolutionary War flag showing a coiled rattlesnake above the inscription “Don’t Tread on Me.” As requested by school administrators, Jaiden removed several gun-related patches from the bookbag, but refused to remove the Gadsden patch. It was then that his mother came to school, where she defended her son with facts about the flag and its history. After a video of this meeting went viral on social media, the school’s board of directors readmitted the boy to class.
Whatever you may think of the Gadsden flag, Jaiden and his mom offer contrarians everywhere some lessons on behavior.

Dress for Success

In the video of Jaiden and his mother meeting with a school official, he’s neatly dressed and sits erect, hair combed and fresh-faced. Before marching off to protest at a meeting of the school board or the town council, we should spruce up and try to look as trim as Jaiden.

Be Polite

Many people today, including politicians, movie stars, and some on social media, employ threats and ideological bombast, often laced with obscenities, to make their point rather than reason and dialogue. In their meeting at the school, both Jaiden and his mother remain calm and collected. So too, we should add, does the school employee. This grownup approach is what we should bring to the table when confronting opponents.

Support Your Arguments With Facts

The Vanguard School staff who wanted to ban the Gadsden flag deemed it racist. That flag has nothing to do with race; it's an early American declaration of independence. Those who display this flag today aim its message at an overbearing government. Like Jaiden and his mother, we should base our arguments on facts. If you’re protesting the inclusion of a lewd book in a school library, you need to read the book, bring it to the meeting, and point out the inappropriate passages. Facts trump rants.

Listen to Your Opponents

Perhaps encouraged by the format of social media, lots of Americans these days try to shout down the opposition. This tactic kills civility and prevents understanding. During her exchange with the vice principal, Jaiden’s mother is clearly listening to the other woman’s explanations before disagreeing with them.
Do these things, and win or lose, we can walk away from the battle with the same grace and dignity shown by Jaiden.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.
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