The 10° Rule: Everyday Resistance and Practiced Acts of Nonconformity

I often joke with my students about my 10° Rule.

Always come at life, I say, at an angle. Don't come at things straight-on. Don't just do what everyone is doing. Don't think exactly what everyone else thinks. Get a bit of daylight, cultivate an bit of separation, between you and everyone else. Not a lot. You don't have to come in a people sideways, at a 90° angle. You don't have to come at them head on at an 180° angle. Just be a bit off. Try 10° off.

Always come at the world, I say, at a 10° angle.


To build up your moral immune system. You have to develop some shame-resistance to the social pressures you'll face when you venture dissent or disagreement. You have to practice being odd and weird. You have to practice being alone in an opinion. You have to experiment with courage.


Well, to be sure, small acts of dissent and nonconformity aren't big deals, but practiced acts of nonconformity--my 10° Rule--create over time the psychological and relational capacity for resistance for the time when things really do matter. There will be times when you feel like you need, morally speaking, to take a stand. There will be times when you feel that you have to come at the world sideways at 90° or take the world head on at 180°. And dissent of that sort will require immense courage and shame-resistance.  

But those capacities don't emerge overnight. Courage and shame-resistance in dissent have to be practiced in small acts of everyday resistance.

Day in and day out you practice at 10° so that, when the time comes, you're ready for something much greater. 

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7 thoughts on “The 10° Rule: Everyday Resistance and Practiced Acts of Nonconformity ”

  1. I truly appreciate this post. I have been living in the Northeast for over thirty years, which has allowed me some room to "practice being odd and weird". However, that opportunity did not exist in the southern rural culture and church in which I grew up. I distinctly remember hearing church members and relatives, when describing someone they considered liberal, say, "Oh, they just want to be different"; and seeking to be different, to "stand out", was just not acceptable. But, the irony was that those who were too conservative, or to the Right, were simply looked at as trying too hard.

    Needless to say, a child raised in this mindset, where even a small step off the path can be interpreted as radical, becomes very careful. However, once a step or two is taken over the line, life becomes an adventure, and I even dare to say, more Holy. Hence, "Still Wondering".

  2. I like it! Too many Christians follow the 90 Degree Rule -- they're square, i.e., conventional, predictable. On the other hand, the 180 Degree Rule is de rigueur: I mean the practice of repentance.

  3. Richard, thinking back to my late childhood and adolescence growing up in a sectarian CofC in Arizona it was the norm for us kids to be taught to come at our world with at least a 10-20° counter inclination. However, it was not acceptable to be that much out of sync with the in-house group...

  4. Interesting. That might work in the Bible Belt. Try being a woman in your region that wears little-to-no-makeup to work, church, etc., and you might find that 10° angle expands exponentially.

  5. As that acute (and sympathetic) observer of the "Christ-haunted South" Flannery O'Connor observed: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."

  6. I really enjoyed this way of looking at things and the image of a "moral immune system." Thanks.

  7. How lovingly Levitical!
    Give 10% of your income, while only giving them 90% of your approval.

    Often when I’ve found myself in moments of extreme trepidation over the years, I have always told myself that 90% of it, isn’t real! My fear and anxiety is essentially based on nothing concrete. Remembering to live in that 10% zone of perspective, where we are free to Love, take risks and be creative with our spiritualty, is a mental territory we should seek to ever expand. When your faith pops someone else’s bubble of expectation, it’s often best to pop it yet once again! Nonconformist acts of outrageous love do there best damage to the spiritually lethargic when they least expect it.

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