Learn to Embrace the Contrarian Mindset

Firearms Training | Learn to Embrace the Contrarian Mindset
The author reviews target diagnostic concepts.  Photo Credit:  Christine Vigneault

Way way back (we’re talking early in the Reagan years), when I was in first grade, I distinctly remember an exchange in which my teacher, a flustered and exasperated habit-clad nun who went by the name of Sister Helen John, looked at me and announced loudly, “Mr. Hanson, YOU are a contrarian.”  It was a statement – an accusation, really –  that required a bold retort.  And, admittedly, one that confirmed her accusation.  “No!  I am not!”  The genesis of the answer was twofold.  First, it was in my nature to go against the grain of authority.  Second, I didn’t have the vaguest clue what a contrarian was.

Little did I know that the term ‘contrarian’ would become one that I would embrace and a term that would literally define the direction of my life as well as my professional and academic endeavors as an adult.

Today, I embrace embrace the term “contrarian.’  I love it.  And more than ever, I embody the very essence of the word.  I AM a contrarian.

Understanding the Contrarian Mindset

We live in a society that cherishes – and, in some instances, demands – conformity.  Go along. Get along. Don’t question people or ideas all the time, don’t buck the system, don’t upset the proverbial apple cart. And a phrase that we’ve all grown disgusted by, “Don’t question the science.”

Contrarians do just that. We thirst for the opportunity to question authority and to challenge conventional wisdom and thought, and take pleasure in going against prevailing opinions and trends. We dare to think differently and often make decisions that may seem risky or counter-intuitive to others. And while many feel it safer to operate within the confines of society’s prevailing opinions and trends, I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of true contrarians are far from the “rebels without a clue” we’re often dismissed as.  Far from it, in fact.  We’re strategists.  We are very comfortable being in uncomfortable situations, we challenge the status quo, and we question the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ constantly.  If it’s a widely held truth, we want to know the reasoning and logic behind it.

Contrarians are not oppositional, nor are we trying to be different purely for the purposes of being oppositional and different.  It’s the drive to find truth and validate conventional wisdom that drives us.

Being a contrarian requires one to cultivate a deep understanding and working knowledge of one’s field or profession.  It requires unquenchable curiosity, a passion for critical thinking, the willingness to be uncomfortable, the courage to stand out from a crowd and ask tough questions, and the ability to ‘eat crow,’ or openly and freely admit when one has made a thinking or judgment error.  Successful contrarians are individuals who, despite going against the grain, base their conclusions, decisions, and actions upon sound reasoning, a developed analytical framework, and insightful observations.

That is precisely why I absolutely LOVE to challenge the standardized paradigms of firearms and tactics training.

Challenging the Standardized Paradigms of Firearms Training

“I hate the firearms training industry.”

That was my opening to a keynote speech I gave several years back to an auditorium filled with law enforcement high-liability instructors with that very line.

Now, I’d assume that after reading that, you’re asking yourself why, if I hate the industry so much, don’t I go out and get established in a new career?

Simple: It’s because I cannot dream of doing anything else.  It’s also because I absolutely LOVE training students, and I love developing master instructors and master trainers.  I absolutely live for the “a-HA!” moments that I see on the faces of the students I work with in all capacities.  It is a privilege to have built a career out of instructing, training, and coaching shooters with experience levels ranging from absolute beginner to seasoned professional as an absolute blessing: I get to do what I love, and I absolutely love what I do.

But I’ll say it again… “I HATE the firearms training industry.” Does this make sense?

People often refer to firearms instruction and training as an “industry.”  Oxford defines “industry” as (the) “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.”

That’s a great way to describe the current state of firearms instruction and training.  Instructors “process” students through curriculums that more closely resemble assembly lines than educational programs.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Students are regarded as homogenized information receptacles.  Instructional programs ‘churn and burn’ students through rapidly delivered siloed instructional blocks, then send them out into the world more confused than when they entered the training program.  Worse, professional duty carriers (police, security, etc.) are familiarized, tested, and then run through basic qualification programs with little to no emphasis on long-term retention.  Moreover, rarely is there any sort of realistic metric to determine the contextual relevance and applicability of what that student was exposed to.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

I’d like you to pay very close attention to the word that I used in the previous paragraph.  I wrote, “Familiarized.”  I chose that very word because that’s exactly what most training programs at BEST do.  Put another way, the overwhelming majority of instructional programs that teach firearms are woefully inadequate.  They do not ‘train,’ they do not ‘teach,’ and they do not ‘instruct.’  They FAMILIARIZE.

Instructors do not actually ‘teach’ their students.  They simply ‘loan’ students the information.  (That’s assuming the information put forth is actually valid.)  In order for ideas and skills to be taught and developed, the student must proactively take ownership of those ideas and skills.  There is a scientifically valid way to transfer this and to ensure that these ideas and skills take root and ‘stick’ in the minds of the students.  Unfortunately, however, this is often not the case.

Over the next several months, I will be focusing on challenging those standardized paradigms of training. Challenge the “industry” because it needs it.  I am certain that along the way, I will ruffle a few feathers.  That’s fine with me.  I say that because, as a contrarian, it’s what I do.  However, I will offer two assurances:  first, it’s NEVER personal.  Second, if I cannot defend it, I will not say it.

Most importantly, I want to assure readers that the challenges will never be made in vain.  Any challenges I make will ALWAYS include a logical explanation of WHY the problem exists, HOW the problem is either created or perpetrated, and how to FIX the problem using logic, human performance research, and real-world examples.

My goal in taking this bold approach is to create and foster dialogue.  To break through the abundant biases, the enormous egos, and the ‘know-it-all’ mindsets and to create an environment where those who engage in firearms instruction and firearms training can listen, share, and learn.  I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s time to elevate this “industry” into something we can all be proud of.

About Keith Hanson

Keith Hanson is a seasoned law enforcement professional specializing in firearms instruction, tactical operations training, and counterterrorism tactics. With a strong background in neuroscience and psychology, Keith is a co-creator of the innovative NeuralTac™ system. This methodology combines neuroscience, combat psychology, neuropsychology, kinesiology, and educational sciences, drawing from the latest research in human performance, to produce advanced instructional programs for law enforcement agencies and private security firms. It also aims to develop and foster advanced-level master trainers within those organizations. Additionally, as a certified force science analyst, Keith serves as a court-recognized expert witness on use of force matters and provides consultation on legal strategies.

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