When kids are growing up, it’s not uncommon for them to define themselves against authority. Mom and Dad say not to do that? By gum, I’m going to do it and damn the consequences! Flower children, grunge, club kids, all text book cases of going against the establishment.
But when we grow up, we become the Establishment. Or do we?
For a lot of the people in the self-employed sphere, they still feel like they’re anti-establishment. They don’t have “jobs,” their work-lives (and often their social lives) are mostly online, and they may or may not have any particular ties to their community. Maybe they homeschool their kids, homestead, or live in a house made of reclaimed plastic bottles. Possibly they live nomadically, and have experiences more countries and cultures than I have fingers and toes. Maybe they’re just living on passive income. The blogosphere touts numerous ways to flout convention.
It’s easy to portray yourself as the yin to their yang, but I would argue that the dichotomy is counterproductive.
I prefer to think of it as being the Loyal Opposition to the Status Quo.
The Role of the Loyal Opposition
A bit of a history lesson, especially given that Americans will likely be unfamiliar with the concept.
In British-style parliament, the winning party, the party “in power” is said to be the Ruling Party. They are the ones that the citizens have voted most likely to uphold their values and govern according to their desires. The party that wins second place is named “The Loyal Opposition.” The fact that they won second place means that they represent the views of a significant portion of the populace, but their role is to provide diversity of opinions.
The majority has a tendency to think “We’re the majority, and anything that so many people agree on can’t be wrong.” Their sheer numbers means that they have a tendency to drown out anyone who has a different idea.
That’s why the role of the Loyal Opposition is so important. The Opposition Leader sits at the front of the room with the Prime Minister, and the opinion of the Opposition Party is given a lot of weight. Why? Because it is necessary to prevent the majority from getting the bit in their teeth and saying that what works for them ought to work for everybody. The Loyal Opposition speaks for the minority, including the other parties. Not to block change, but to ensure that the issues are thought through and to ensure that the compromises entailed are all agreed upon. They challenge the ruling parting by being the Devil’s Advocate.
Moreover, if either the ruling party or the opposition want to either block or pass bills, they must form alliances with the other parties to get enough votes, further incentivizing compromise and listening to where the other party is coming from. If there were too many parties– say, more than 10, the system would be fractured by squabbling factions. If there are too few parties, the system becomes like a prize-fighter grudge match.
In the American two-party system, it’s easy to become polarized. It used to be a multi-party system, but eventually the smaller parties were absorbed, leading to the duopoly we enjoy today. So now Congress gets easily gridlocked because for Democrats to win, the Republicans must lose, and vice versa. Compromise and cooperation are disincentivized under this structure.
That’s enough of a political science lesson, but I trust you can see why I hold the position of Loyal Opposition to be an honorable one.
The Status Quo is our Ruling Party
The Establishment, in our case, people who go to school, get jobs, commute from good school districts and so on, is the ruling party. It’s what the majority of the citizens have decided is the lifestyle that matches their skills and values.
The role of the Loyal Opposition (us) is just to provide living proof that the way of life that the Ruling Party embraces is not the only way of life, nor the best way of life. We provide a visible template for people who are dissatisfied with life in the Ruling Party and want to make a change. We provide pushback when people become hysterical about economic and social issues like the shrinking job market and what that means for workers. Look at us! We made our own jobs. Some of us even make jobs for others! All is not lost!
But we’re not the progressives to their stodgy conservativism. That’s just trash talk. Not everyone wants to be in business for themselves, and not everyone has the aptitude for it. Loads of people are specialists. How many scientists and engineers could own their own business?
And lets not add fuel to the fire by calling ourselves “Rebels” and “Revolutionaries” and “Rule Breakers.” We live in a free society that lets us be “rule-breakers” because they’re not actually rules. We’re just doing our own thing. And that’s really cool. No need to look down on the people who aren’t doing what we’re doing.
Leading By Example
In the micro, of course, none of us are actually involved in policy. But every time you ask the question “Does it have to be this way?” you’re fulfilling your role as the Loyal Opposition. The trouble with being in the majority is that it’s hard to see anyone who is doing anything differently. But if enough of us start asking “Is this the only way? Is there a way that works better for me?” the more the question moves into the collective consciousness. I mean, that’s how we got farmers markets back in cities. Enough people started to ask why we had to fly all our produce in from Chile and Mexico.
And that’s why working from home is going mainstream. That’s why having an online-based business is going mainstream. Enough people questioned the status quo that all of the sudden it became normal. If there’s a movement that’s near and dear to your heart, you do it no good to say, “Unlike most people, I have a job that I love.” While it may be true, it doesn’t exactly win you converts. To really support change, you might say “I realized that my job wasn’t really fulfilling, so I did XYZ and figured out what would be fulfilling, and now I’m doing that full time.” Just like our parents told us, we’re leading by example.
How are you performing the role the Loyal Opposition?