According to one definition, a maverick is, “an unorthodox or independent-minded person.” But a maverick is also someone who chooses not to give in to the pressures of society, breaking ranks, not for personal gain, but in an effort to improve conditions or expand knowledge for everyone.
In the 16th Century, the now revered scientist Galileo Galilei would certainly have fit the definition of maverick. At a time when the church kept tight control over the public’s understanding of the world around them, Galileo’s challenge that the earth was not actually the center of the universe but instead part of a solar system with our sun at its center was controversial.
Of course he was eventually proven right, but standing against such a powerful entity as the Catholic Church sent Galileo to be tried for heresy. There are countless cases like this throughout history, most related to individuals who chose to challenge long-standing beliefs in politics or religion.
Today, as in Galileo’s time, society is taught and expected, from an early age, to keep quiet; never to upset the status quo for fear of retribution. Those willing to stand up and be heard shape the most change in the world, but often pay a high price for their contribution to progress. Much of what society deems acceptable is dependent on one’s position and the sphere of influence there encompassed.
For example, it is unacceptable in many religious groups for a married couple to divorce. They are expected to remain together indefinitely for the good of the church, their families and so on, regardless of the situation, even in cases of physical abuse. It stands to reason, therefore, that the first few individuals who challenged these rules were certainly dealt with harshly. Fortunately, over time, this type of censure has eased somewhat, at least publically.
On the whole, it is difficult to greatly influence public perception and alter the behavior of a society or to get people to remove the blinders of ideology and accept the possibility that there are other ways of thinking. Ignorance, prejudice and misunderstanding usually lead to fear and resistance.
It should also be made clear that religious groups are certainly not alone in such ridiculously judgmental behavior. Anyone who challenges established norms can find themselves on the receiving end of some pretty unpleasant retribution, particularly in the workplace.
Often employees are never to question authority or decisions made by their superiors, otherwise face reprisal. But what does one do when superiors are actually breaking the law? In 1989, Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act. The law is designed to shield workers against retaliatory personnel action – meaning, essentially, it keeps them from being fired – for “blowing the whistle” on illegal activities perpetrated by their employers.
Unfortunately, there is no such protection for the everyday person who simply wants to do the right thing. From Moses and Lady Godiva to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, taking a stand to alter deeply engrained social beliefs has never been a task for the weak-hearted.
Most people are discouraged by how much retribution might be taken out on them for going against the grain. Sometimes, however, just standing up for the little things can help to affect larger changes. Making a difference in the boardroom, at school or even in the hallowed halls of church might ruffle some feathers, but if the purpose is worthwhile, it would be wrong not to do something.
So, what about those by-standers who agree with the maverick but are afraid to stand with her? If only one other person supported the cause then another would as well, then another, and another. That’s how revolutions are started in the face of resistance. So the next time you see an injustice being done and you have the opportunity to act, what will it be: Maverick or conformist?
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.