Archive: The Iconoclast – from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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“An iconoclast originally referred to a person who destroyed icons, that is, sacred paintings or sculpture.”

from the Wikipedia:

High-tech workers tend to be on the cutting edge of both work and society, so it isn’t surprising that you will find an iconoclast or two among our ranks. These are the people who purposely seek out the sacred cows, the ironclad beliefs of our business and unassailable facts and delight in mocking, attacking and disproving them. Often, though, these iconoclasts can forget that not everyone needs such a fervent attack. Not everyone is part of the great unwashed, and uneducated, masses. There are plenty of folks out there that are already on their side. When this is forgotten, these free-thinkers can actually harm their goals by “preaching to the choir” with a bit too much fervor.

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Take a break

Anyone who seeks to change opinions and actions needs to understand that not every occasion needs to be a teachable moment. You can often find iconoclasts in online mailing lists, where every message that is not their own, is fair game for proselytizing their message. This is not to say their message is unimportant, only that repetition is not necessarily the best method for spreading your message, especially among friends. You need to know when you are among friends so that your message does not turn into a harangue. No one likes to be told what they are doing wrong every single day. Sometimes you just need to take a break, let a message slide, build up your invective for a truly worthy response.

Those who see their life as a never-ending battle against ignorance can easily come to believe that no one, other than themselves, truly understands. They begin to feel isolated and angry, which drives them to increase the pitch of their remarks and attacks. All this does, though, is drive support further and further away. No one wants to be around someone who can only talk about one topic. They quickly exhaust any attempts at conversation and, in many cases, it becomes a monologue. A monologue that the other person has already heard many times before. This has exactly the opposite of the intended effect, isolating the iconoclast even more.

Pick your battles

The secret to being a productive iconoclast is to know your audience. When you are around liked-minded individuals, you can reduce the tenor of your rhetoric, You can provide support for your ideas instead of bludgeoning people with them. You can tell others about the strides that are being made. You can point out those people, companies or governments that most need to change their behaviors.
You cannot, though, treat everyone like your most strident critic. You can’t assume that they haven’t heard the message just because they might not live the message with the same vigor that you do. You should never assume that they disagree with all your positions when they disagree with a portion of them and you should never assume that they are lesser people than you simply because your opinions differ. Once an iconoclast steps over this line, they move into the realm of harassment, not persuasion.

We need iconoclasts in the world. Wrong-headed ideas are deeply embedded in our cultures and it is only by calling them out that we can hope to change them. In America we once thought slavery, male-only suffrage and McCarthyism were pretty good ideas. It was the iconoclasts (abolitinists, feminists and Edward R. Murrow) that lead the charge to newer, better ideas. That said, unchecked fervor and a lack of understanding the audience can lead many iconoclasts down the road to ineffectual harpy, if they allow it. If they allow themselves to see the world only as black and white, they are doomed to a downward spiral that will leave them feeling even more isolated and cynical about the state of man and society. Cynicism brings efforts to force others to believe your message rather than persuade.

Stand up for those things you believe in. Get your message out, but beware of allowing your fervor to run away with you. Seeing every conversation as a battle, every meeting as a debate, every non-believer as a threat will stunt the importance of your message beneath overbearing personal behaviors…making it that much harder to accomplish your goals.


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