Society and tradition are wide open for anyone with an axe to grind and a megaphone to wield. After all, who has not mounted the soapbox and declaimed such and such injustice? Who has not believed that they have a better way of doing something than the usual way? Who has not pointed out the injustice of the system?
In answer to that flurry of rhetorical questions, I have four words describing those who question authority, uncover corruption, and are prone to doing things their own way.
A gadfly can be very annoying (the ‘fly’ should cue you into this vexing quality). He or she buzzes around, so to speak, hoping that others will recognize that society—or any institution, for that matter—is not as perfect as some would like to believe.
Perhaps the most famous gadfly in history was the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates. He believed society could be improved, and perhaps the first step was helping others realize the extent of their own ignorance. To do so, Socrates would walk about the portico, peppering people with pointed questions. As nobody wants to admit they are ignorant, Socrates, despite the best of intentions, met an untimely end (he was found guilty of trumped up charges and forced to drink poison).
There are artists who paint water lilies and pastoral scenes of picnicking aristocrats. Then there are those artists who paint the world in lurid hues of green and blue (and cut off their ear somewhere along the way). Or there are the pop musicians who churn out the usual drivel about love and longing. Then there is Lady Gaga, who apparently does so while wearing a meat dress.
Both Van Gogh (the artist from the first example) and Lady Gaga are called iconoclasts, or those who take tradition, stand it on its head, and give it a few good brush strokes (not to mention a meat dress).
Steve Jobs was the quintessential maverick—a person who insists on doing things his or her way, and refuses to bend to the will others. Jobs went against the colossal tide that believed to own a computer was to own a personal computer. In doing so, he also made it clear that the alternative to a personal computer would have to be on his own terms. He would not bend to the will of anybody else. Countless rows later, I am typing this from my svelte MacBook air (while looking over at the brontosaurus-like contraption of my hapless colleague).
Granted this is not the most common GRE of words—but it’s a definitely word you should know. Indeed whistleblowers have figured into the news in the last decade. A whistleblower is one who is part of an organization and witnesses corruption firsthand. Instead of just sitting back and observing the unethical proceedings, a whistleblower will stand up and decry said corruption. Usually this entails going to the media.
Perhaps the most notorious whistleblowers were those who came forward about ten years back and said, “uh, you know that really profitable energy company called Enron? Well, they are actually bankrupt; they totally cooked the books.” Cooking the books, by the way, does not refer to an iconoclastic chef, but the making up of numbers in the accounting books (Hmm, what if I add ten zeroes to the end of this ‘1.’)