Be Disagreeable

Let’s say you are going about your business one day when God appears to you and says, “Go kill your son.” The logical thing to do is to obey God. But how can you? What will other people think of you when they hear you sacrificed your son? What will your son think of you as you go and kill him? How can you live with yourself after killing your own son? Those might have been some of the thoughts rushing through Abraham’s mind as he journeyed up the mountain to offer up Isaac, but he went anyway, despite what other people would think of him, despite what he felt himself. He did the right thing. God put him through the ultimate disagreeableness test.

It’s been six years since Malcolm Gladwell’s last solo book was published and while patiently waiting his next release, I started listening to his podcast, Revisionist History. After listening to a few episodes, one caught my attention, “Malcolm Gladwell’s Twelve Rules for Life”. Inspired by Jordan Peterson’s book, Gladwell set out to find his own 12 Rules for Life, but after much thought could only come up with one: Do the logical/right thing, no matter what people might think.

Of course, Gladwell puts this simple idea in a much more interesting and Canadian fashion: Pull the Goalie (referring to the decision of when to pull the goalie in a hockey game—be traditional and popular, or unconventional and unpopular?) Malcolm Gladwell does a much better job explaining this rule than I ever could, but living his “Pull the Goalie” rule actually requires you to be disagreeable at times.

Psychologists assess human personality along five dimensions: extroversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and finally agreeableness. Agreeableness is what makes people like me wander around Walmart looking aimlessly for something instead of just approaching someone and asking, for fear of looking stupid or incompetent. Conversely, when people are disagreeable, they don’t care what others think of them. Of course, I am not saying you should be 100% disagreeable; as for most things in life, the best path is the balanced one. Disagreeable people can often be selfish and hard to cooperate with, but in a world where being agreeable is so strongly pushed, perhaps we have forgotten the necessity of being disagreeable at times.

I think many of us latch on to this idea: “I want everyone to like me.” Or rather “I don’t want them to hate me.” It’s only natural. It is only the rare few who can truly say that they do not care about other people’s opinions of them. We all want to be liked. This is reflected in social media as people desperately fish for likes. It is why someone can get depressed when their photos start getting less attention or less likes. It is why people skirt around controversial topics in daily conversation—controversial opinions can make you less likable. It is why the idea of being politically correct has reached such an absurd point that you can get in trouble for referring to a boy as he or a girl as she. We can’t possibly hurt anyone’s feelings or someone might hate us.

As Catholics in the modern age, holding to basic truths of reason and morality, we are going to have controversial opinions—no abortion, no contraception, no divorce, no gay marriage, not all religions are good, evolution is debatable. You might be hated for these, I guarantee you will be hated for these opinions. But that’s ok. It is ok to be hated. Don’t live your life to be liked by everyone; it is impossible. Even Christ was hated, hated so much that he was nailed to a cross and left to die.

There will be times when you have to be disagreeable: when you make a proper sign of the cross before meals and people look at you like you are some superstitious fanatic; when you’re laughed at because of your beliefs or teased because of your rigid, inflexible, “old fashioned” moral standpoint. You have to get comfortable with the fact that there will always be people who will ridicule you for what you believe in, because if you try too hard to live your life to be liked by everyone, you will have to compromise on your faith. And in the end, you will only hate yourself for missing out on eternity for something as trivial as being liked by some people you met briefly.

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