Contrariness involves disagreeing with the prevailing point of view. It can mean taking an apparently odd point of view, but it especially means being suspicious of the majority opinion.

It can be a bad thing, disagreement for disagreement’s sake. It causes fights between siblings, it puts strain on marriages and it makes others awkward on group outings.

But sometimes it’s good, refreshing, necessary. It casts new light on an old subject. For Sherlock Holmes, to Watson’s bemusement, it solves mysteries. And it can get you better marks on exams.

Come again? Better marks on exams, was that?

Yep. And I’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Examiners mark – oh – hundreds of scripts in a short time period and they’ll see the same ideas, the same arguments and the same points of view over and over again. Tedium! These examiners are people, not robots. As much as they strive to be objective, an argument well-made must suffer when it’s the umpteenth to do so. An original or unusual or thoughtful point of view, however, might see them through to the next tea-break, and they’ll give you better marks in thanks.

Remember, I didn’t make this up – an examiner told me so.

A typical examiner's desk.

A typical examiner’s desk.

Hone your contrariness then, by reading those who are good at it. Our article of the week shows Howard Jacobson to be one of Britain’s leading contrarians (He might deny the charge – but he’d just be being contrary).


Jacobson’s contrariness is often quite tongue in cheek:

Happy? Me! I have been miserable – and have prided myself on being miserable – for as long as I can remember. I was a prodigy of misery when I was small. Strangers commented on it.

Many of you will know the feeling that Jacobson expresses here – if you can’t be one of the happy people, then you may as well be happy being sad. We’re all liable to this kind of perverse pride on occasion. On his main point, however, Jacobson is both contrary and deadly serious. He really does think that exercise has very little to do with happiness. To counter scientific facts that supposedly support the link between fitness and happiness, Jacobson employs empirical observations from his own experience:

But whenever I’ve been in a gym I’ve been struck by the angry sadness of everyone I see there. The received wisdom has it that running on a treadmill or pressing weights releases endorphins that make us happy, but that’s only relative to how unhappy we were to start with.

Like those other great contrarians Sherlock Holmes and G.K. Chesterton, Jacobson is just a bit more observant than the rest of us.



Write a contrarian paragraph on one of the major issues of the day…


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