contrarians, unite (and doing the opposite)
I hugged a homeless man while riding New York City subway last week. He stopped in the middle of the subway train, and spoke about Our Lord, and giving, and sacrifices.
I do not know what he spoke about, okay?
I tuned him out as soon as I saw him. And so, when he passed me by, I reached into my purse for a small bill, and handed it to him. Then I stood up, and asked “Can I hug you?”, and after getting a nod of consent, proceeded to deliver one of my signature hugs. The homeless man looked at me, and said “You… are good, you!”.
If you think I immediately thought of De Niro in “Analyze This”, you’d be right.
I did it because it was the opposite of what my initial instinct was. It’s a nifty little exercise.
Then I spent the remainder of my subway ride, acutely aware of the fact that everyone else in that subway train was staring at me. I was that weird person who hugs homeless people on the subway. Or, perhaps, a self-righteous White girl with an ill-advised “love will save the world” agenda. (If you have not yet heard of @socalitybarbie Instagram account, now is your chance. #loveyourneighbor #blessed).
But first, we go back a few weeks…
“How can I help you?”, the cashier asks.
“Americano for here, please”.
I am standing in line at Aroma cafe somewhere in Toronto. I’m about to order an Americano, even though what I really want is a cookie. But if I get a cookie on an empty stomach, I’ll crash and burn, and be (even more) cranky all day. Besides, it’s almost lunch time.
Cafe is busy, and the Black woman behind me is standing way too close for my liking. She is wearing a puffy winter jacket, and is clutching a plastic cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. I feel the annoyance rise in my throat. I almost roll my eyes. And then do the opposite.
“Yes, I’d like to pay for whatever this nice woman behind me is getting”.
The woman looks up at me in surprise. Meanwhile, the annoyance in my throat evaporates with a loud “poof”. I nod and smile at her, pay for the order, and grab a seat by the window. She thanks me, and then thanks me again few minutes later on her way out.
Remember that episode of “Jerry Seinfeld”, where George Constanza decides to experiment with doing the opposite? “Every instinct I have ever had was wrong!” he laments. Jerry nods, “Then the opposite has to be right”.
See, doing the opposite usually comes quite naturally to yours truly. The fucking contrarian that I am. (See a lovely essay on the upside of being an argumentative bitch here).
Do things out of spite.
For the hell of it.
Go the other way.
If the crowd goes right, turn left.
Balance out the status quo.
Question the establishment.
Push against the institution.
Leave it to the contrarians to question the most basic of the assumptions. Certainty is the entity that gets the most flak.
“Of course, that’s the answer!”
“Whoa, hold up!”.
“Yes, I am sure!”
“Now, hold on a minute!”.
None of the walls, the boundaries are that firm, that absolute. It does not make sense to treat them as such. We could learn from dissenters like Orwell and Hitchens.
So, I question.
Lately, I especially question the negative emotions directed at others.
Hmm… I am angry with this person. Is it this person I am angry with? Am I angry? Is this a correct assessment of the emotion I feel? [Insert a joke about living in your head, and overanalyzing things like emotions here].
If I were to act on this emotion, what would I be inclined to do? [Scream, yell, punch this person in the face?] Now, what would the opposite look like? [Smile, hug this person, give a compliment?]
Annoyed may turn into encouraging.
Angry may turn into happy.
Fear may turn into support.
It’s a neat little exercise. It kinda sucks in the moment, when I catch myself, fuming at the person next to me in line, and think “Ah, fuck!”.
All of the above MAY come across as humblebragging. Look at me, hugging homeless people, and paying for other people in line to make their day!
Trust me, I am not that selfless. Arguably, my actions made THEIR day better. Without a doubt, my actions made MY day better. Given the choice, I’d rather smile and hug, than roll my eyes, and fume.
And, no, I do not seek to undermine legitimate negative emotions, but rather combat the avalanche of small annoyances that we all experience around the holidays.
“Ugh, that asshole is aiming for that same parking spot! Fuck him!”.
Go ahead. Give him the parking spot, then open your window and yell “Merry Christmas!”.
Instead of shaking your head “no”, buy ten packs of girlscout cookies, and give them out to your neighbors.
Decline an invitation to yet another holiday gathering, and stay at home to wash your floors instead.
Say yes, instead of no.
Say no, instead of yes.
See what happens.
Meanwhile, if there was a contrarian theme song, surely it would be this:
P.S. There is a difference between contrarianism and buttheaded denialism. Holocaust deniers and those rejecting scientific consensus need not apply.