“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We exist in a world of constant influence. Whatever we set our minds on, that idea slowly becomes our reality. You can read a book that’s so fascinating and intriguing to you that even when we put the book down it continues to resonate in your mind and shape your worldview throughout the day. Because you set your mind on it for a long period of time, it becomes the forefront of your reality. This happens when we individually choose to focus on something, but it also happens socially. People think, act, and conform to the hegemonic cultures and views. Ideas come to us through our daily interactions in the world primarily from other people.
The most effective influences on us are through our social connections. Not just any social connections, but the ones we’ve allowed to become a part of our lives. The social spheres that influences us the most are the ones we already have accepted and find belonging in. The social connections that are most entrusted by us have the greatest ability to open up our perspectives and worldviews. We naturally guard against those with opposing views or from social influences that we don’t relate to. Suffice it to say that our closest friends and relationships can change our worldview much more effectively than not-so-close acquaintances and complete strangers trying to change our worldview. Keep in mind that if you try to persuade others to see the world from your perspective, if you aren’t taking the time to first build their trust and respect you’re probably wasting your time. People will always default to the views they’ve already developed over time and put up a guard against unfamiliar and effortful consideration of new ones.
There are types of people that are mostly influenced by the ideas and views of the larger society because they’re tuned in the larger sphere of influence. Their minds are focusing on the issues of larger society, therefore that becomes their reality. The unanimous consensus of the larger portion of society makes sense to them. They connect with popular culture and media and enjoy their sense of belonging in it. They can quickly and easily find topics of discussion to relate to others that are tuned in to the same popular culture and dialogue of larger society. Whether it’s discussing a recent movie that came out, recent events in the news, etc, people in this influential sphere can find common ground with numerous others. It’s those who accept the ever-changing manifestation of a popular movement in society at any given time.
Now consider the second group your more fringe group types of people. They find themselves into smaller, more specific social influences rather than the influence of the larger society. They aren’t tuned in to the greater culture of society. Instead, their mindset is on specific fields of study, interests, and culture. The makeup of those smaller influences create their reality. The ever-changing movement of the greater society doesn’t resonate with them because they are receiving their social influences through their personal pursuits and studies of their smaller fringe-group spheres of social influence.
Now break it down even further to the individual level where we introduce the individual type that exists primarily outside of most social influences – the Iconoclast.
The iconoclast has such drastically different views from the larger sphere of society, that he/she is considered an outsider. This person is an independent and critical thinker whose reality is shaped more by their own personal understanding and conclusions apart from the influence of others. However, this isn’t to say they somehow escape the influence of all social pressures and forces. Part of being human is being inescapably susceptible to social influences that shape our reality. Iconoclasts are simply more guarded against accepting the general social consensus over their personal views. They’re more interested in the conclusions that they have independently and logically arrived at in the absence of societal influence. They trust in their own hybrid worldview made up of several unique influences that they’ve carefully weighed and balanced.
Societies often see the iconoclast as an immediate threat. Iconoclast is often described using destructive terminology, and we think of them as destroyers. However, iconoclasts in the positive sense are more accurately initiators. Society needs iconoclasts to initiate, lead, and change the status quo when it has become harmful and corrupt. Iconoclasts are the ones who see problems and inefficiencies forming in society long before it’s largely recognized.
Not all initiators and leaders create better societies. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The iconoclasts are the initiators but their views and influences over society, if proven to be valid, should not transpire into a centralized power model. Their job is to hold fast to the ideas and views they believe in, even in the opposition of society, only to lead by example in the ways that they influence others. The iconoclasts therefore simply create the grassroots movements that the people pick up and continue. Their greatest challenge is the automatic opposition of people to their ideas and viewpoints that are outside of the contemporary influence of larger society at the time.
It’s the iconoclast’s burden to share their ideas and views, especially in trying to influence others. Iconoclasts must labor in listening and communicating to gain the understanding of others, and the efficacy of it depends on building closer-knit social connections and influences. Expressing irregular views outside of these channels will inevitably be met with harsh opposition and criticism. It takes time and slowly building influence to initiate a movement that can potentially change the views and directions of a society.
The role of the iconoclast in society is to become an initiator and leader by example when necessary and appropriate. Their unique ideas and influence can change the direction of society and introduce fresh perspectives that deviate from the popular consensus-defined normalization. They shake things up to liberate others from the influences that have permeated society but are no longer beneficial. It may be the return of a direction or path that was once valuable and meaningful to society but has since been forgotten. The iconoclast holds fast to their values even in the face of adversity because they believe in it with conviction. Society needs the iconoclast.