A crash course in authentic rebellion

The true nature of rebellion is not going against the grain blindly; it involves a thoughtful approach to sift out nonsense beliefs

Red umbrella between black umbrellas

The beliefs we hold as “core” are most often hand-me-downs. Our societies, cultures and families are responsible for socialising us, and they do so by instilling beliefs into the basically empty vessels otherwise known as infants and children. We are conditioned to think, “I don’t want to stand out, or I’ll be ostracised.” However, everyone has the desire to be different; to stay true to their own selves. This urge often leads us to blind rebellion. We rebel without knowing what it really means to do so.

What is rebellion?

It’s not unthinkingly doing the opposite

One friend is married to a guy who continually lives by his own rules, but it’s rebellion for rebellion’s sake. He’ll go to a restaurant, get seated and then demand another table. He’s highly opinionated, but it’s without thought or consideration. He’s not a true rebel; he’s just annoying.

It’s not “teenage rebellion”

This is a more benign version of the guy above. Teens have a tendency to argue for argument’s sake. The parent says “black”; the teen says “white.” Not because white is correct or even their preference, but because it’s a safe way to engage in anti-parent rebellion.

It’s not just being “against” something

It is impossible to rebel when one only knows what one is against. A woman I knew had doctors for parents. They insisted she be one, too. However, she wanted to be a pianist. They refused to help, and bought her a microscope instead. So, as a teen, she “rebelled” against them by dropping out of high school and getting pregnant. Her next step was to become a secretary and to marry a guy her parents hated. When she came to me for advice, I suggested that all these actions were equivalent to thumbing her nose at her parents; it accomplishes nothing.

I asked her what she was for. She, no surprise, still wanted to be a pianist. We talked; she enrolled in a university to learn music, and became a pianist.

It is impossible to rebel when one only knows what one is against

The act of rebellion begins in the mind

1.  The first step is discovery

Societies prize compliance; the desire to follow the values they promote is embedded in us. Sadly, only about five per cent of the population questions their beliefs. That is why true rebellion is rare; pseudo-rebellion is prevalent, and going along to fit in is dominant. But let’s just say that you’re pulled to question your beliefs. Start by listing your basic beliefs. I call these things “rock beliefs” because they are foundational. Make a list of all of the foundational truths you believe—about yourself and about the world. A hint: think in broad categories. For example, think of people of different nationalities, creeds or races. What comes immediately to your mind? What are the “truths” you know about men, women, business or religion? Carry on from there.

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A version of this article was first published in the September 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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