The Art Of Insubordination


Last Updated on December 7, 2022

Author Todd Kashdan Explains How We Can All Defy Effectively

Being thankful for what we have doesn’t prevent us from acknowledging ways things could be better. There is always more that can be done to create a better world and to give more of those around us reasons to be thankful too.

One key to making changes in the world is knowing how to use our voice in the right way, to make statements about what needs to change and ask questions about why things are the way that they are. One expert who understands the ways to successfully evoke change is Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology and the author of The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent & Defy Effectively. Kashdan acknowledges that while there is a stigma surrounding words like “insubordination” that makes others hesitant to encourage defiance, it remains a necessary act for evolution.

“It’s intentionally provocative,” Kashdan told Growing Bolder. “A lot of organizations that wanted to hire me were like, ‘I don’t know if I want to bring people in and teach them insubordination.’ And I was like, ‘Well, do you care about creativity? Do you care about innovation? Do you care about evolving as a group?’ Because all of these things require someone to take a single step away from the herd, away from conventional thinking.”

According to Kashdan, the starting place for effective defiance to shift culture norms is asking questions.

“As soon as we can’t speak about the problems, those problems become unsolvable. As soon as we can’t ask questions, then they become taboo topics, where all of a sudden they become radioactive unnecessarily. We really need to have a place in universities, in hospitals, in nonprofits, in conversations on radio, where you can actually ask questions, because nobody has a manual of what the new language is and what’s appropriate or inappropriate. The only way to find out is to start talking to people and asking about what’s going on.”

In addition to confronting the problems we see in society with questioning, Kashdan recommends we build a group that breaks down the barriers of age.

“You should have a social circle with: someone younger than you, that is smarter than you were at that same age; someone older than you that has wisdom and has gone through adversity and challenges, so you can extract their wisdom; and people that are in your current age cohort, so you can work together to figure out how to get through this uncertain, very difficult, adverse-ridden life,” Kashdan said.

“As long as we are age-stratified, we are not sharing the wisdoms that are passed down over the course of history. We keep having to repeat our own mistakes.

“It’s going to have a little friction in the beginning because you’re not going to see eye-to-eye. I really want people to understand the science of that short-term mental anguish. The payoff is long-term personal growth evolution and greater meaning in life.”

While every one of us has the potential to use our voice and set an example, Kashdan believes our elected and chosen leaders need to set the tone for overcoming the friction that comes with collaboration.

“We need the wisest, smartest people on panels with people who hold different positions to be models and exemplars that we can all work together,” he said. “It’s actually the willingness to embrace the fact that we are not going to have resolutions where society is going to be fixed today. What’s so lost in the political movements today is the realization that there’s a long game. It takes a while, a delayed sleeper effect, for people to flip their worldviews around.”

By surrounding ourselves with patience, diversity, and the curiosity to explore important conversations, Kashdan believes anyone can take the steps to dissent and defy effectively.

This article is featured in the November 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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