Merry, Merry, Quite Contrary

A friend recently accused me of being contrary, said that I had an incontrovertible tendency to go in the opposite direction of whatever anyone requests of me. The friend seemed to think I didn’t know I had such a fault, which is true. I didn’t. (Except for when I feel taken for granted or discounted. Then, yes, I do dig in my heels.)

I took an informal poll of other friends, and it seems as if most people thought I was too accommodating, that I tended to be too conciliatory. I accept my brother’s nastiness, I do what people ask whenever possible, and if in my power, I will do what I can to make people happy. (Yeah, I know — you can never make anyone happy, but still, you can go out of your way too keep from adding to their misery.)

Contrary mechainans “perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.” By that definition, contrariness seems to go hand-in-hand with obligation, as if I have an obligation to do what people request of me or expect of me. If there is no obligation, there can be no contrariness, perverse or otherwise, because if I do what I want to do rather than what other people want me to do, I am going in the direction I want to go.

I admit I am contrary when it comes to ideas. I don’t accept ideas just because most other people do. I tend to be a bit of a skeptic, taking the known with a strong dose of curiosity and questioning. I’m not particularly an out-of-the-box thinker since out-of-the-boxness implies more of an imagination than I have, but so often I am not even aware of the box.

I write books that are contrary to genre expectations (for example, my good guy and bad guy never duke it out at the end).

I’ve also lived a contrary life, not embracing the consumerism of our society, not following fashion, not watching television programming (though I do watch taped movies via a television). My plans/hopes/ideas for the future all go contrary to what is normally expected of a no-longer-young woman on her own.

I even go contrary to myself at times — trying things that are out of character, or doing things I am afraid of doing. I try to say yes to any invitation even if I am not so inclined in an effort to continue going contrary to my nature.

Although I started out this post trying to prove how uncontrary I am, I have to agree with the friend who thinks I am contrary. I do, however, disagree with the judgment that my contrariness is a fault. Seems like a necessary attribute to embrace if one wants to merrily go along, living a life of beauty and folly no matter what anyone else expects or desires.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

10 Responses to “Merry, Merry, Quite Contrary”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I tend to think that the “average take” on many subjects is watered down from what people would believe if they didn’t know what “everybody else” thought about something. So, being contrary to that seems like a positive thing.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It shocked me (though it shouldn’t have) when I found out that people vote for who they think will win, not who they want to win. Going contrary to the perceived public view might change who’s elected, though it probably wouldn’t change anything else. It doesn’t seem to really matter who gets elected. (Another idea that seems to go against the “average take.”)

      • Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

        I think people choose candidates the way they choose books, movies, restaurants and concerts: they follow the crowd, figuring something must be wrong with the people and places that aren’t on toop of the polls/charts/lists.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I don’t know anyone who has lived a life according to some fixed social plan. Some people are just better at going along with what society seems to want from them. My nephew, for example, is intelligent to where his intelligence used to get him into trouble at school. He learned martial arts and, after flipping a bully in the playground, he had no more of that trouble. He was hassling my nephew, threatening to hit him. Then suddenly he was on the ground looking up at him. My nephew then just walked away.

    He was lousy at sport but put his brain to solving that problem. He became a good soccer player and now he sometimes coaches on weekends. He’s made friends outside his field of interest and made something others find of importance and value his cup of tea. Right now he has a top girlfriend into the arts. I have threatened to disown him if he botches things up there. He’s living a life others would envy but it cannot be seen as a life going strictly by any plan society could have come up with. Some would classify him as a nerd because of his interest in science while others see him as a sportsman who makes a living in robotics.

    As for myself, one of the things I have stressed in my writing is the fact that the world is already overpopulated and that moving people about the globe doesn’t solve the situation. This isn’t always a popular thing to be stressing. Also I have pointed out that everyone should have the same rights living in my country whether you were born here or came in on the last boat or plane. That doesn’t always go down well.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      A bit of contrariness is good for us all! You sound like a wonderful uncle.

      • ROD MARSDEN Says:

        I do my best. All my sister’s children, including my nephew’s girlfriend, turned up for my play staged at Cronulla. Of course they’re not really children anymore. I was touched that they did turn up. I suppose that might say something.

  3. Carol Says:

    And your name isn’t even Mary… er, Merry! 😉 I don’t see doing what I want, or taking a stand on something that may differ from the majority’s opinion, as being contrary, particularly if I have a good reason and I’m not just trying to be ornery. Taking a different direction can be a growth experience.

    I have an elderly neighbour who is truly contrary in a most annoying way. No matter what direction a conversation takes, or innocuous statement DH or I might make, she will give a critical response, question why anyone would think/do/say that, or will insist the opposite is correct, all in an irritating tone of voice. Given her advanced age, we’ve decided not to argue with her, but at times it can be very difficult to bite our tongues!

  4. L8ies Says:

    I came here, from a google search after being accused of being contrary & wanting to examine the truth of the statement. I questioned the accusation seemingly intuitively but I thought, being a biased human, maybe they were right. You’ve illustrated why my question was IMO valid. I am skeptical, I don’t play devil’s advocate or disagree for the hell of it, I question pretty much everything. Often, people who cling to a paradigm for stable identity don’t appreciate anyone chipping away at its internal logical structure. I am left with a question of risk vs reward in etiquette. If many find the tendency to question irritating, is moderating my behavior the more prudent social choice? Or would it simply be easier & perhaps more healthy to accept the consequences & “live out loud” as it were. It’s a question not unlike determining if one is “telling truths” and just being “honest” or using the cover of veraciousness to be boorish & cruel. Anyway, thanks for the perspective, Cheers! 🙂

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