How to be a Heretic Without Hurting People

And now for a few words from some dead white guys:

“Modest doubt is the beacon of the wise.”

William Shakespeare, English playwright.

“A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes.”

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, German philosopher.

“Heretics are the only bitter remedy against the entropy of human thought.”

Yevgeny Zamyatin, Russian author.

LESSON LEARNED: If you want to make a name for yourself, you have to think for yourself first.

Otherwise accepting unfound conclusions without evidence, explanation or personal consideration becomes a betrayal of the self.

Today we’re going to talk about being a heretic without hurting people.1. Be constructively challenging. I’m not suggesting you throw a monkey wrench just to watch the gears grind. Instead, maintain a meaningful purpose.

Like my mentor Bill Jenkins. He constantly reminds me that his purpose as a writer, educator and minister is to challenge people to see if all the thoughts in their head get along with each other. Always loved that about his approach.

And of course, he still nails me regularly, for which I’m forever grateful. What’s more, through Bill’s willingness to expose inconsistency through the bright light of courageous questioning, I’ve learned how to practice the same.

I prefer to use challenging questions like, “Why?” “Why not?” “According to who?” “Since when?” “What evidence do you have to support that belief?” Give those a shot. How challenging is your language?

2. Own your thinking. The definition of the word heretic is, “Anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine or principle.” Not bad, although I prefer the Latin origin approach. The word “heretic” comes from the Latin hereticus, which means, “able to choose.”

Here’s what that means: Consciously (and consistently) decide for yourself what to think, when to think it, why it matters to think it and who you’re going to share that thinking with. That’s what a heretic does on a daily basis.

Otherwise, if your thoughts aren’t your own, that makes you an automaton. Not very inspiring. Where are you (not) at full choice in your life right now?

3. Create your own religion. It’s easy: Choose a God. Pick a prophet. Perform a miracle. Settle on a name. Adopt a symbol. Agree on a sacrifice. Formulate the rituals. Determine your enemies. Outline the dogma. Write a bible. Start a website. Construct a building. Select a funny hat. Recruit a following. Spread the gospel. Hold a conference in Orlando. Convert anyone with a pulse. And see ya in the afterlife!

Done and done. It’s cakewalk, right?

Wrong. The word “religion” comes from the Latin religio, which means, “to link back to.” Therefore: Your religion is the one thing in your life that every other thing in your life links back to.

Figure out what that one thing is, and you’re all set, Reverend. Man, that was easy. You didn’t even have to kill anybody. What church are you the founding member of?

4. Don’t keep your doubts to yourself. During his 2010 Spoken Word Tour, Henry Rollins came through St. Louis. And during his three-hour talk – through which he didn’t take a single break or a single sip of water – Rollins said, “People frequently say I’m opinionated – to which I reply, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.”

What about you? How opinionated are you willing to be? And how do you respond to people who dislike to your heretical thoughts? Don’t be shy about making your positions known. After all, conclusions weren’t meant to be kept quiet.

You don’t need to scream and yell at the establishment to be a heretic – but you do need to publicly and respectfully dissent. Tattoos optional. Are you offering propositions in addition to making protests?

5. Amplify your work with a platform. It’s hard to be heretic if you don’t have a way to reach the people who matter. Even if your following only consists a handful of hopefuls. You can’t assemble a movement to overturn stale thinking if you’re winking in the dark. People have to see and hear and touch you, your message and the voice that delivers it.

Fortunately, the number of available platforms is endless, both online and offline. The secret is five fold: Deliver content consistently, solicit dialogue constantly, respond to communications quickly, engage with people honestly and reinforce your philosophy daily.

Doing that is akin to plugging your message into a Marshall Half-Stack and letting that E chord rip until your neighbors bang down your door with shotguns. Whatever. If it’s too loud, you’re too old. What’s your mechanism for reaching your people?

6. Be aggressively skeptical. But not annoyingly cynical. Huge difference. Cynical people are sneering and peevish, while skeptical people are inquiring and reflective. Cynical people are maimed by negativity, while skeptical people are marked by doubt. And cynical people do it all for show, whereas skeptical people do it all for truth.

Got it? Remember: Heretics are the people with clear minds, strong hearts, curious eyes, furloughed brows, intrepid tongues and persistent fingers. Question first; believe second. That’s the heretic’s code. Do you refuse to swallow anything before examining it?

7. Reject rigid discipleship. Yes, your goal is to build a platform and enlist a following around your vision. But asking the people who jive with your message to immediately become traveling mini-versions of you is antithetical to the entire heretical philosophy.

If your plan is to wage a ruthless and continuous battle against the status quo, you have to extend that same latitude to the people you serve. Think of it this way: The word “disciple” means “pupil who grasps intellectually and analyzes thoroughly.”

Let your people do that. Let them be as free as you are, and they’ll help carry your vision to the ends of the Earth. Or at least all way to Effingham. Whom are you trying to make just like you?

ULTIMATELY: Being a heretic isn’t about (not) believing.

It’s about believing because you went and found out for yourself fist.

It’s about believing because you explored the naked truth before mindlessly ingesting it.

It’s about believing because you dedicated yourself to a conscious, consistent posture of inquiry.

It’s about believing because you chose to believe – not because you were told to believe and blindly followed.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems smarter – and safer – to keep a heavy finger on the pause button before announcing to the world, “This, I believe!”

Are you willing to be a heretic without hurting people?

For the list called, “61 Things to Stop Doing Before It’s Too Late,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

How to be a Monument of Non-Conformity

I’m aware of the irony of publishing a list of instructions on how not to conform.

And I confess to the glaring paradox of a non-conformist like myself publishing a blog post that teaches people how to conform to a standard of non-conformity.

BUT TWAIN WAS RIGHT: Don’t assume you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

AS WAS EINSTEIN: Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities.

AND SO WAS EMERSON: A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.

Here’s how to be a monument to non-conformity:

1. Discover what drummed the magic out of you. Indoctrination starts early. Very early. Usually long before you’re old enough to realize there’s a shiny watch swinging above your head. The trick is to travel back in time and pinpoint the person, institution or dogma that first hypnotized you.

Then, to honestly admit how that conditioning affected your choices as you grew up. My friend Richard, a therapist and life coach, asks his clients: “Name the first person that told you that who you were wasn’t okay.” Oof. Not a smooth path to walk down. Crappy self-confrontation.

Still, this kind of exercise yields tremendous insight into your (subconscious) conformist beginnings. And without such reflection, you run the risk of compromising your truth. “Becoming vacant in the eyes as you conform,” as Chris Whitley sang in Din of Ecstasy. Are you willing to look in the mirror and ask yourself when you stopped thinking for yourself?

2. Avoid fitting in. “What could I do – in this moment – that would be the exact opposite of everyone else?” This is the guiding question of my decision-making process. Has been since I was a kid. But now that I’m thirty, I don’t even think about it anymore. It just happens.

The question is forever engraved upon my bones like a cosmic serial number. And that’s my argument: Simply standing out is only half the equation. You have to actively avoid fitting in, too. How are you converting yourself into a square peg?

3. Work outside mainstream thinking. Is fitting in such a high virtue? No way. Don’t refuse to become anything other than what to group tells you to be. Make a conscious choice not to be a ditto. An echo. A copy of a copy.

Ask yourself (and your organization) to complete the following sentence: “The way we challenge the status quo is ____________.”

Then, post your answers on your website. After all, the answers to that question are the building blocks of your monument of non-conformity. Have you publicly refused to occupy the middle?

4. Practice positive deviance. That means believe what you believe because you (actually) believe it – not because somebody told you to believe and you mindlessly followed.

That means free yourself from the constraints of heartless orthodoxy.
That means make yourself the exception to as many rules as possible.
That means approach everything with a healthy dose of curiosity and aggressive skepticism.

However: Don’t deviate just for the sake of deviating. Mindless contrarianism isn’t much better than mindless conformity. I urge you to bleed for what you want, but not for the sole purpose of staining the rug. Do you know when to break the rules?

5. Hack a new path. My friend Genuine Chris wrote a brilliant blog post related to today’s topic. Here’s an excerpt that made my stomach drop:

“The difference makers are the people who are indifferent to what the crowd does or thinks. They create the world and mold it regardless of resistance. They ignore the persistent tether of the mediocre and don’t brag about seventy hour weeks, but brag about how much of their mind, soul and spirit they engaged to solve a problem.”

Lesson learned: Don’t live with the results of other people’s thinking. Push beyond group norm constraints. Are you following an existing path of safety or going where there is no path and leaving a trail of blood?

6. Be unafraid to court controversy. Again, not because you want to make noise – but because you want to keep rein on your individual. To show the world that you refuse to stand mute. And to “throw off the shackles of non-conformity and shout a throaty no to anything non-wow,” as Tom Peters wrote.

My suggestion: Take contrarian positions on more issues. Hell, on all issues. Make yourself a model of courageous living and thinking by constantly asking yourself: What do I risk in presenting this message? Because if the answer is, “not much,” you lose. Your monument to non-conformity crumbles under the weight of gutlessness.

Remember: Going against the grain welcomes splinters. Have your tweezers ready. What risk are you going to have to learn to live with?

7. Big isn’t necessarily beautiful. The bigger you get, the fewer risks you take. There’s just too much pressure to be predictable. That’s why smaller organizations, freelancers and one-man shows – who choose not to conform – win.

They’re not prisoners of their own bigness.And they’re the sole shot-callers. Thank God. After all: Who says monuments have to stand five hundred feet tall? Small is an acceptable destination. As Seth Godin wrote in Small is the New Big:

“Changes in the way that things are made and talked about mean that big is no longer an advantage. Big used to matter – and then small happened. And small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them quickly. As such, small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.”

Remember: If size mattered, dinosaurs would still be alive. How can you be a monumental without being monstrous?

8. Shields up. When you do decide to stand out, prepare yourself for inevitable slings and arrows from the people around you. It comes with the territory of occupying the margins. You’ll find that many of them will become uncomfortable. Or feel threatened by your distinctiveness. They’d much rather you fit in – that way they could ignore you.

Unfortunately, because you’ve sculpted yourself into a monument of non-conformity, people are (now) confronted with just how boring they really are. Good. Maybe that will disturb them into action. Maybe Steven Pressfield was right: “When we see others living their authentic lives, it drives us crazy because we know we’re not living our own.” Are you prepared to be hated?

ULTIMATELY: Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.

That’s what John F. Kennedy said in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 25th, 1961 – and it still holds true today.

I challenge you to contest the conventional.
I challenge you to drum up a delightful disturbance.
I challenge you to make yourself into monument to non-conformity.

Your voice will be heard by the people who matter.

What do you do to go against the grain?

For the list called, “99 Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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