Some people are leaders. Some are followers. And some are human salmon, hardwired to swim upstream and live their lives against the grain of the generally accepted norm. Frequently, such folks are successful in life but do not make others feel warm and fuzzy toward them.

The contrary folks have many names, some quite descriptive and spot on accurate (but for the sake of the tight-lipped and judgmental types, we promise to use the most genteel ones). One name the aforementioned tight-lipped brigade will sniff at is “trailblazers”, but only because they disapprove of anyone who rocks the proverbial boring boat they prefer.

Trailblazers are defiant; they abhor doing the expected. In other words, to conform and be acceptable to the nameless and faceless folks they think will judge them.  People who possess spines made of overcooked noodles are prone to say “What will people think?” The proper response whether one is a trailblazer or not is “Who cares what others think. I’m following my path, not theirs.”

Since behaving in a contrary manner is quite normal for small children, it is difficult to tell at the early stages of childhood whether their behavior is a matter of DNA or the consequence of being in the throes of the Terrible Twos. But let’s not forget the teenagers who feel that rebellion against simple rules, such as cleaning their rooms or coming home before curfew, is what adults expect from them. And so, the darling half-grown dolts are more than happy to comply. In both cases, the contrary gene could be present.

The true trailblazers pop out of the womb with a contrary mindset. Therefore, they refuse to behave like other babies and adjust to sleeping through most of the night. After all, mummy and daddy need to be trained. Consequently, when the stinky diaper-producer cries, loud enough to shatter dreams and eardrums, the parents hop to attention.

A brilliant young mother decided that when her daughter was born, the little angel would have to adjust to the family schedule rather than stir things up with baby’s version of the waking and sleeping routine. In the morning, the mother opened the curtains in the nursery and told the urchin to wake up. What with her hectic and unpredictable work schedule the mother could ill afford to kowtow to a mini-human.

Believe it or not, the mother’s plan worked. This helpful hint may be a bit late for some mothers, but something to consider by couples who are still trying to figure out why they have so many children, and how to deal with them.

Elementary school through high school can be difficult for children who march to a different drummer. Nowadays, such children are labeled with the convenient ADD moniker and given drugs. Is it because teachers do not wish to discipline the children or because they do not want to face the fallout from overprotective parents?

There was a time that teachers did a splendid job of dealing with the trailblazer type children as well as the occasional misbehavior of the others. They even had the approval and support of the parents.

For example, when this reporter was in elementary school the nuns were almost gleeful when doling out punishment for unacceptable, but not necessarily bad behavior. Their favorite attempts to make a child conform meant that the unfortunate child spent countless weekends writing “I will not …” 3000 times.

What the dear nuns could not know (at least we can only hope they did not) was the long-term consequences of that form of penance. It guaranteed that the trailblazer child would be cursed forever with illegible penmanship. So, unless adults you know and work with are in the medical profession, perhaps that handwriting from Hades is because of some well-meaning nun’s disciplinary style from his or her childhood.

So, be patient with the folks who live against the grain. Remember it may be a temporary annoyance for you, but they have spent a lifetime swimming upstream.

Conforming is easy, but consider the constant effort it takes to be true to one’s nature.

Visit Elizabeth Cowan’s updated website: Follow her on Twitter @LizCowan4

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