Ignore this article

High ground

If you are reading this then you have ignored my advice. What compelled you to do so? I clearly was in a better position to judge the merits of this article, because you were still on the title, whereas I had written and reread the entire piece. So why did you ignore my wisdom? Perhaps you did not trust the title because it is illogical for people to publish writing they do not want people to read. Maybe it peaked your interest and you wanted to judge for yourself.

Or—and this may be a bit of a stretch—perhaps you enjoy a little defiance every now and then.

Let me explain. Certain types of people have an affinity for conflict. I am one of those people. I have found that while some may consider my choices irresponsible or wrong, I have gained a great deal from disobedience. I still remember and reflect on one of my first little acts of defiance. When I was in elementary school, my peers and I would be released onto the playground for about half an hour a day. Right behind that playground, there was a small wooded area, and all the students were advised not to wander past the swings into the brush.

At first I thought nothing of it and followed the instructions like I was supposed to. But after a few weeks, I began to question the advice of my teacher. I often played in the woods behind my house and returned unscathed; why should these woods be any different? I began to grow indignant until one day I disappeared into the woods. Returning just before recess was at an end, I bragged to my friends that I had ventured into the woods and returned in one piece.
Unfortunately, shortly after returning to class, my arms began to break out into a rash. I was sent to the nurse, where I confessed my actions and found that I had stumbled upon poison ivy in the very woods I was told to avoid.

You would think I would have learned my lesson that day, but my tendencies persisted as I grew older, far past my rebellious teenage phase. When I am told to do something, even if it is proposed in a harmless way, my gut reaction is to question the validity of the person’s authority. In fact I almost craved being given orders just so I could break them when I was so inclined. I was not alone in this.

A friend, not too different from me, would drag race at speeds of over 130 mph on the highway past cars that he could have easily hit. He stole planks from houses with unfinished construction for seemingly no reason at all. Trespassing and calculated disobedience were practically part of his daily routine. I will spare you the details of some of his more reckless endeavors, but they have often gotten him in trouble.

Eventually I had to ask myself why do we trend towards chaos in our lives? Reflecting on the misadventures of my friend, myself and doing a tad bit of research, I found a common narrative: a love of power and an overwhelming curiosity with rules and regulations that combined into a kind of confident (perhaps overconfident) skepticism that, in turn, compelled us to continue to challenge that which put up walls.

A study in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that people who break the rules are perceived to hold power because they act the part. Rule breakers often act confidently which, regardless of whether they are right or wrong, can inspire others to view them as leaders. A man putting his feet on a chair, ashing his cigarette on the ground and ordering his food in an unfriendly way was seen as “more likely to get to make decisions” by onlookers. Those defying orders and conventions also perceive themselves as powerful.

Rather than sneaking out of my high school classes early for to go to a friend’s house or to the shore, for instance, I could have easily waited. Yet to me the power to choose an activity over class was like a reaffirmation of my own autonomy.

However, despite this undeniable rush, power alone is not quite sufficient to explain my actions—oftentimes consequences incurred reduced my autonomy. I got detention for skipping class, and in order to teach me a lesson my, parents often took away liberties. My actions did not make me feel or be perceived as powerful. That is when I think back to those woods and all the mystery they held. It was curiosity that compelled me into those woods.

A healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism is important. It helps uncover truths and protect you from manipulation. It encourages intelligent discourse and the inclusion of opposing viewpoints or minority opinions that otherwise may be marginalized. That being said, there is such a thing as too much curiosity. It has often put me in harm’s way.

When breaking the law or disobeying orders, there is always risk, and for good reason too, as discouraging harmful behavior is an important function of laws within society. I am sure some of you reading this do not condone my friend’s actions. But what I have landed on is moderation. I still love risk and acts of questionable legality, but I have clear lines I actively choose not to cross for the sake of myself and others.

I do not regret entering those woods as a kid. I have made many mistakes in my life, but they have made me the person I am today. Be your own person; make your own decisions even if sometimes that means breaking the rules. But always remember that your actions will have consequences. Every day we make choices, but in the end our choices make us.

Who knows? Maybe a little danger will teach you something about yourself. It certainly did for me.

Chandler Holcomb is a junior at Case Western Reserve University.