ďIf you want to be well-liked, get a dog.Ē
That was what one of my former professors was very fond of telling his students who wanted to go into journalism.
While I donít normally set out to be contrary just for the sake of being contrary, I usually find myself in the middle of unexpected controversy.
For example, I have naturally auburn hair. In my early high school years, I wanted to be blonde, so I highlighted my hair. Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to be a redhead, so I went to the store and bought a shade I thought would look great.
I decided to dye my hair the night before school pictures. After all, I didnít want my mugshot to be outdated before it ever appeared in the yearbook.
The next day, I showed up for my sophomore year pictures with streaky orange hair. Iím talking tabby cat orange.
The powers-that-be thought I was being rebellious on purpose - I must have purposefully tie-dyed my hair during the night. And who can really blame them? Iím sure more than one or two ornery high schoolers maimed their locks the day before pictures to make various political statements.
I had never caused any trouble during my academic career, so I was a little miffed that someone would jump to such a conclusion. So I dyed my hair purple - on purpose. And kept it that way until I graduated and dyed my hair blue.
My choice was not a popular one and I certainly didnít win any favorable opinions, Iím sure. But I learned something - opinion does not translate into right or wrong.
At one time, popular opinion held that the world was flat; that one man had the right to own another; that women should not contribute to the political process; and that it was ok for pre-teen children to work in mines and factories as long as they were the children of immigrants.
On the last point, Lewis Hine, an investigative photographer at the turn of the century, chronicled the lives of these children, including newsies - children who worked selling newspapers on the street.
These children would have to buy bundles of papers with their own money then resell the papers at a mark up. If they didnít sell their papers, they lost their money. So Hine was not only taking on big companies, he was challenging his own industry.
Sometimes, we have to see whatís wrong before we can see whatís right.
Now, I certainly didnít rewrite any social mores with my silent hair protest. And Iím not sure I would condone such a fashion statement in my own children, but I would encourage them to speak their mind. After all, our experiences shape our perceptions and opinions. (There is a very interesting communications theory called ďlenses and framesĒ that looks at how we perceive our surroundings, for my fellow geeks out there.)
Iím often asked, as a journalist, for my opinion on various topics. I usually smile and politely say I donít really have an opinion and just try to convey what I know to be true - and that doesnít usually go over well either.
By the way, I have two dogs.