Making good trouble – thoughtfully disrupting the status quo

Luvvie Ajayi Jones is an author and blogger from the United States of America. I was drawn to her because she has written about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is a phrase that is often used at Lauriston’s Year 9 Howqua campus where our students and staff learn a good deal about how our discomfort can support our growth as human beings.

Luvvie sees herself as a ‘professional troublemaker’ in that she believes we all have to be ready to make ‘good’ trouble if we are going to disrupt the status quo and make positive change. Jones writes about how it may feel like ‘trouble’ when we do not agree with a group.

In our lives we will come across situations when we do not agree with the idea or opinion of a friend or work colleague. When the other friends or work colleagues in the group indicate or perhaps give their tacit agreement with this idea or opinion, we may feel alone on an island, and question whether we should stay quiet, and hence tacitly agree, or whether we should speak out.

Of all the life lessons I have learnt, and particularly those since the COVID pandemic, I know that I would prefer to be uncomfortable and not accept the status quo to ensure we get to the best outcome for all. The art of disrupting

Throughout the course of our lives we will all be faced with situations in which we may not agree with broader issues, such as the stance our government has on climate change. Ajayi is raising the concern that people may choose not to speak out when they disagree and hence the status quo will be maintained, and this may be to the detriment of individuals or society at large.

She suggests that we ask ourselves three questions when determining whether we should say something that is contrary to everybody else. Do I mean it? In asking the question, the author believes that we are checking in on whether we want to hear our own voice, or whether we actually mean what we want to say. The second question is ‘Can I defend it?’ or do I have the ability to back up what I want to say. The final question is ‘Can I say it thoughtfully?’ which gives attention to thinking about the way we will offer our different perspective without being thoughtless to those around us.

For Ajayi Jones a ‘professional troublemaker’ wants to disrupt in order to make things better not just for yourself, but for everyone. I agree with the author in that it is important for every individual to know their core values and what is important to them. In short, you need to understand yourself first because this will inform those things that you are prepared to speak up about.

I remain unsure about the notion of the ‘professional troublemaker’, but I acknowledge it can be challenging for many of us to disagree or speak out, perhaps because we lack confidence in the strength of our viewpoint, or we do not want to be seen as different by our friends or colleagues.

Being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable. And all comfort has done is maintain the status quo. Luvvie Ajayi

Dare to disagree

In her TED Talk, Margaret Heffernan tells the story of Dr Alice Stewart who in the 1950’s became interested in the emerging field of epidemiology. Of particular interest to her was the rising incidence of childhood cancers. With limited funding she undertook an initial survey and found that by a rate of two to one, the children who had died had mothers who had been X-rayed when pregnant. It took another 25 years before the British and American medical establishments abandoned the practice of X-raying pregnant women. Dr Stewart faced two particular challenges in having her research validated by others. Firstly, she was a woman working in the medical field where, at the time, she was in the minority. Secondly, she was offering research that diminished the breakthrough technology of X-Rays at that time.

Dr Stewart did not give up on her research and worked with statistician, George Kneale, whose job was essentially to prove that her theories were wrong. This gave Dr Stewart the confidence she needed to know that she was right. I believe that Dr Stewart demonstrated courage in not only continuing to speak out but to seek out people who held different perspectives than her own with whom she could debate this issue and gather further evidence.

Margaret Heffernan offers another example with Joe who worked for a medical device company. He was worried about a device he was working on, believing that it was so complicated it would create margins of error that could hurt people. Joe’s problem was that it appeared no one else in the organization seemed to be worried. He found a way to raise his concerns and discovered that many people in the organization had exactly the same questions and doubts. Through working together, which included a good deal of debate and differences of opinion, they were able to solve the problem.

I believe the examples of Dr Stewart and Joe both met the criteria for Ajayi’s three questions. Each was certain they:

  • needed to be speak up about a particular matter
  • had the evidence to defend their viewpoint, and
  • was able to offer their perspectives in a thoughtful manner

The Lauriston graduate

I believe we support our students who are not afraid to speak up when they see issues within society which need to be changed. I admire the girls who will let their peers and friends know when they do not agree with their words or actions to pave the way for a productive dialogue.

Among our values is the value of courage and standing up for what we believe. It is not part of the Lauriston DNA to be quiet and accepting of the status quo. When our girls see the need for change, they seize the opportunity to do better. We have many examples of ‘professional troublemakers’ in our alumnae and they have all sought to improve some aspect of their community or the organization in which they work.

Susan Just
Principal – Lauriston Girls’ School