One of the first times I found validation for my youthful rebelliousness was when I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The fictional character had many of the same issues as I did and he had the gumption to follow through on them. Huckleberry Finn is the most acceptable rebel in America because so many of us relate to his character.
The more I discovered about the book’s author, the more I admired and related to him, too. Samuel Clemens was more than an author and humorist; he was the quintessential American rebel. Many of Clemens’ works are just as controversial now, as they were during his own time. He knew that many of his personal views were simply unacceptable to his contemporaries. Material that has been published post mortem reveal a man who thought very deeply about heavy issues.
Modern day readers of Twain’s popular works and lighter material may be shocked at just how rebellious the writer was. Some modern day critics of Mark Twain have said that he became cynical in his old age. It wasn’t cynicism that drove Clemens, it was criticism and awareness. Twain was as much of a rebel as Huckleberry Finn and as clever as Tom Sawyer. This fact is what makes Mark Twain relevant today.
When friends ask who I would want to meet if a time machine was built, one of the people I always mention is Samuel Clemens. What a rebel he was.
I’m thinking about rebelliousness today because there is so much of its negative form present in modern society. Unfortunately, there are the ever present problems of juvenile delinquency and political radicalism. In today’s world much of this rebelliousness has crossed over into belligerency and insurgency. In many countries, including the United States, this insurgency borders on mutinous and treasonous militant activity.
The negative, destructive forms of rebellion have never appealed to me, nor apparently did they to Mark Twain, either. Political revolution and violent resistance usually lead to worse social conditions, with very few exceptions. At best, political revolt leads to more of the same with only the figureheads and ideology being changed. Prime examples today are religious fundamentalism and political militancy. None of this is helpful or healthy for our modern world.
The type of revolution that strikes a chord with me is the one that John Lennon wrote about in the Beatles’ song “Revolution 1”:
“…Well you know
You better free your mind instead.
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow….”
Nonviolent resistance is a more productive strategy. Gandhi, King, and Mandela are among the nonviolent leaders who come to mind. These people were not rebels in the classic sense. They were more about rebelling against systems and conditions that were harmful to people. They were about peacefully upholding lawful, equal rights. They acted as defenders of legality, and constitutional process.
I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that its best to orchestrate personal revolutions. At this level, rebelliousness is channeled into more positive, constructive action. Make no mistake, a personal revolution might seem small, but it’s really big and requires a true rebel to follow through on it.
A personal revolution is not for the mild-mannered, milquetoast state of mind. It requires a good measure of willingness to change ones basic operating system and to reject some weighty personal beliefs. A true personal revolt is all about allowing freedom to reign supreme. The type of freedom to be yourself and to embrace the freedom of everybody else, unconditionally. This revolution must be done without harming others in any way.
The best sort of rebelliousness enables us to assert ourselves in truly meaningful ways with minimal negative results. You are simply proclaiming your independence and allowing the “chips to fall wherever they may”. Your revolution may cause some raised eyebrows and questions from people you know. But you’re not hurting anyone at all, you’re just claiming your right to be who you are. You’re claiming your own freedom.
You may wish to follow the example of America’s “Declaration of Independence” and compose a written document that declares your own personal revolution. Once it is written, actual, meaningful action is more likely to follow.
Some people assert their rebelliousness by changing their hairstyles or getting a radical haircut, or allowing it to grow out. You may have rebelled this way when you were a teenager. Do you remember the feeling of power and independence your teenage hairstyle evoked? My unruly mane of red hair was a statement of rebelliousness and personal identity. I sometimes wish my aging follicles could grow that hair again.
One act of rebelliousness might be declining an invitation you would normally, reflexively accept. Of course you’d turn it down in a non-confrontational way that respects others and keeps the door open for you to accept future invitations.
Your declaration of independence might be more drastic, in that you part company from destructive relationships. Is there a negative, energy parasite in your life? If so, it may be time to dissolve that relationship. This may take some introspection to make sure you’re not the negative partner. Be mindful of the consequences for the other person and use tact if you decide to follow through.
The idea of these acts of rebellion is not to act like a jerk or to violate any laws. The point is to push the envelope and discover your own limits. In the process you may discover the more confident, compassionate person within.
Just like political and social revolutions, personal revolutions aren’t just one-stop events. They need revisiting from time to time to make sure we haven’t become complacent or even slipped backwards. Times change and the revolution may need a counter-revolution to once again energize us.
One minor but meaningful action I sometimes do is to stand in front of a mirror and yell, in my most sincere, exclamatory voice “¡Viva la Revolución!” Try it and see for yourself.