There are some rare individuals who walk among us who have an uncanny ability to stimulate us into fresh ways of thinking or acting.
I call them provocateurs.
This term has often been used in a negative political sense, but I believe there is room for a positive spin on it, as well.
One can’t tell a provocateur strictly by appearance, although many of them have a strikingly individual fashion sense.
The way we can recognize provocateurs is by the way they change our thinking.
They do this by presenting such a radically fresh insight into things that it catches us off guard and forces us to take notice.
Often, they suggest ideas that we may not have considered.
Even when discussing the most mundane subject, they can give it a fresh twist.
I don’t believe this is intentional. They just have their own way of looking at things.
I am fortunate to know some provocateurs of the first order.
They constantly keep me off balance with their quick wit and novel approach to everyday situations.
Every writer should cultivate relationships with provocateurs, because they have a subtle way of forcing us to examine our preconceived notions and suggesting new avenues for us to explore.
Complacency is death to a writer.
When I am lucky enough to spend time with a provocateur, I find myself furiously jotting down notes for future story ideas or things I want to research.
Provocateurs are masters at thinking outside the box because they never allow themselves to be restricted by artificial parameters.
Provocateurs are also concise thinkers. They cut through the fluff to the nub of any situation.
I have had the good fortune to know some provocateurs for years. There are some I don’t see often these days, but any time I receive a letter or e-mail from one of them, I can rest assured that even the briefest message will be packed with insight.
Provocateurs are creative individuals. Instead of accepting things at face value, they ask the question, “What if?”
This can be unnerving at times, but it forces us to examine our own conclusions and consider alternative interpretations.
The way provocateurs operate is based on the way they think, as opposed to being limited to what they know.
They tend to be curious individuals, and retain information well, like human sponges, but this is only part of the equation.
Their unique approach adapts well even to subjects with which they are unfamiliar.
I have had the uncomfortable experience of discussing a topic with a provocateur a topic with which I thought I was very familiar only to have them strip it down to its essential points, and provoke me to consider things I hadn’t considered, all within the space of about 30 seconds.
Having a conversation with a provocateur can be a humbling, as well as enriching, experience.
Provocateurs can also nudge us into new courses of action.
If one is ever feeling stuck in a rut, the quickest way to escape is to seek out the society of a provocateur.
In addition to asking “what if?,” provocateurs ask “why not?”
The fact that we have not tried something before is no excuse not to do so now.
If there are things that one has consciously or unconsciously wanted to do, a provocateur might push one into doing them without delay.
Associating with a provocateur is never boring. They are not the sort of people who sit back and wait for life to happen to them. They venture forth and attack life every day.
I find any contact with a provocateur as bracing as the first breath of spring air the sort one gets when one flings open the windows after a long, dark winter.
Provocateurs are lightning rods for fresh ideas, and they exude positive energy. Anyone fortunate enough to have contact with these people can’t help but absorb some of their power.
The French have an expression, élan vital, which, roughly translated, means “vital force” or “force of life,” and this, provocateurs have in abundance.
If we are willing to abandon our pride and adopt a receptive attitude, we can bask in the aura of the provocateurs, and we will no doubt benefit from the experience.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the provocateurs in my life. They have helped to shape my thinking, and they have demonstrated time after time that it is possible to turn that which is prosaic into something sublime. What’s more, they usually give me a good laugh while they do.
One can’t ask for much more than that.