Being polarizing gets a bad rap.
But think of the great, most influential minds in human history, they didn’t reach towering heights by being agreeable and safe.
The wartime statesman Winston Churchill once said “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life”; though I haven’t agreed with all of Sir Winston’s stances, I think his sentiment here is spot on.
Sure, when you’re polarizing, you might not please everyone. Conventionally speaking, being on the good side of people is still a positive thing.
But when done for the right reasons, being polarizing can be avant-garde and cooly subversive–since essentially, it means taking risks and embracing your individuality.
In this article, I’ll take you through a few telltale signs of a polarizing personality. So, if this sounds like you then don’t fret, you’re definitely not alone.
Let’s get to it!
1) Your presence inspires differing reactions
Here’s an obvious one: you notice that when you’re around people, they seem to either love you or loathe you.
There’s rarely any middle ground.
Do certain people rejoice when you enter a room as if you’re some kind of esteemed luminary?
Simultaneously, when you try to engage the others in your vicinity, they respond with a cold shoulder and occasional eye roll.
If this bipolar reaction becomes a pattern when you interact with peers, then you may just have a polarizing personality.
These differing reactions can also be indicative of a divided social circle. This leads me to my next point…
2) Your social circle is divided
Things can get a little tribal when you’re around–meaning, people tend to take sides when it comes to the topic of, well, you.
As we said, while some love you, many will treat you with disdain, even disgust in extreme cases.
This inner strife in your circles can cause problems amongst friends and family members, who may be in disagreement by conflicting opinions of your actions and words.
Not many people treat you with indifference or neutrality. You tend to inspire the type of
debate (more on this later) reserved for abortion rights or war in the Gaza Strip.
And speaking of controversial topics, you’re no stranger to those…
3) You have a ton of strong opinions
Real talk: polarizing people are polarizing for a reason, and often this comes down to the opinions they vocally express.
Do you tend to have unapologetically contentious opinions on things like politics or religion? If so, you’re bound to ruffle some feathers.
Topics like politics and religion are inherently controversial. Subconsciously, people tend to consider their views as almost an extension of who they are, fundamentally—that’s why things can get a little tricky.
So when you attack a person’s opinion by providing a contrasting opinion, sometimes they take it as a personal affront.
Maybe you’re liberal and some of your social circle is right-leaning. If you’re outspoken about your thoughts, it’s only natural you’ll piss off a few people, and gain a few supporters in the process.
As an idealistic, somewhat angry guy in my early twenties, I used to be incredibly vocal about my politics on Facebook. I had strong views on God (or lack thereof) and corrupt elected officials.
Looking back, I’ll admit I was pretty inflammatory, sometimes intentionally so… it must have been all those Rage Against the Machine mixtapes.
Eventually, I noticed that I was gradually unfriended by many (in both social media and in life), including many high school buddies who apparently didn’t share my beliefs and the ways I was communicating them.
4) You inspire passionate debate
Do you know who tend to be naturally contentious figures? High-profile people like politicians and celebrities.
Take Donald Trump, perhaps the most polarizing figure in modern American history.
I have friends who cannot stand him with a passion, and I also know people (namely relatives and acquaintances) who place him on an almost god-like pedestal.
Regardless of your views on the man, I think there’s no debating he’s a polarizing figure who can get a conversation started… and the occasional bar fight too.
Another polarizing public figure is basketball player Lebron James, perhaps one of the most scrutinized athletes to ever live.
Lebron has always been outspoken about things like his basketball talent and the plight of black people in America.
Therefore, he’s hated because he’s “arrogant” and “too political” (i.e. doesn’t share their politics.)
Sometimes the hate will be so biased and cherry-picked, it borders on personal, which is pretty sad when you think about it.
Meanwhile, his supporters love him for many of the same reasons: he
speaks his mind, he’s confident… and going beyond that he’s a freakishly skilled basketball player.
The point is, if you have the ability to inspire passionate debate from people (particularly people you’ll never meet) then it’s safe to assume you’re a polarizing figure.
5) You’re unforgettable
When you’re polarizing, you’re not like most people who just want to pay the bills on time, find a date, or get a work promotion.
Believe it or not, most people don’t want to rock the boat.
You, however, are unafraid to challenge the status quo; a practice which earns the respect of many but the resentment of others.
Think of Galileo Galilei, who proposed that the earth revolved around the sun, which pissed off the Catholic Church and resulted in his persecution from society.
Or more recently, there was Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, who became a symbolic figure in Jim Crow America when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus.
The defiant act of civil disobedience played a critical role in the broader struggle for racial equality and civil rights in America.
Common people are scared of change. And the powers that be? Frankly, they’re even more scared. Once they see a threat to their power, historically they have always taken drastic measures to maintain it.
Remember, regardless of how you’re perceived now, in the end, history is kind to the polarizing, bold figures who inspire positive change.
This reminds me of a quote famously attributed to Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
To recap, let me say that polarizing personalities can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the context and the perceptions of those involved.
Having a polarizing personality also isn’t inherently good or bad.
When it comes to day-to-day life, people are often considered polarizing for either speaking out about contentious topics or simply being an asshole. Sometimes both.
There is a fine line here, and if you want to be polarizing in the right way, be mindful not to cross that line–this is ultimately the decider if people remember you fondly or hate you.
If find yourself speaking out against injustice, fueling the ire of others in the process, then more power to you. Cautiously embrace the polarity. It’ll be worth it, in the end.