There’s an old, old joke about the two elderly men who, for undisclosed reasons, have been brought in front of a firing squad to be executed.
The soldier in charge hands the first man a blindfold. “Put this on!” he orders curtly.
The old man dashes the blindfold to the ground. “No!” he says, crossing his arms. “I won’t take your filthy blindfold.”
The blindfold is pressed into his hands again. “Put this on!” the soldier barks.
Once more, the old man takes the cloth and throws it to the ground, this time grinding it under his heel. “I said NO!” he shouts defiantly.
His fellow prisoner, however, speaks up. “Ernie,” he pleads. “Put on the blindfold! Don’t make trouble!”
“Don’t make trouble” is one of the cardinal rules of civilized existence. We all have seen – and despised – those entitled individuals who do, indeed, make trouble. They’re the impossible-to-satisfy customers at the deli counter complaining about the ham being sliced too thickly, the officious man shouting: “I’ll have your job!” to the hapless sales assistant for refusing to accept his return without a receipt, the parents who scream bloody murder at the little league coach for benching their less than athletically gifted child in the last half of a championship game. In short, they are the bane of anyone who, through vocation or chance, has been called upon to serve their fellow human.
However, as with many actions we take in life, it is not what we do but the reasons for why we do it – making a loud, noisy fuss about the thickness of one’s sliced meats is not civilized behavior; making a loud, noisy fuss at a public demonstration to highlight an injustice and bring a voice to the marginalized is a conscientious citizen’s duty, and part of the evolutionary grit of an adaptive society.
It isn’t necessary to be aggressive, loud or rude to make a point, but it is often very important to assert ourselves – patiently and politely – to stop confidence tricksters and bullies in their tracks. In short, sometimes it’s good to make trouble. Organizations like Dr. Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project and Ira Chaleff’s “Blink, Think” campaign are shining examples of this important lesson.