On Being Naughty: Part 2 of “Being Good or Living Well”

naughty boyDoesn’t it sometimes seem that “naughty” people have more fun and enjoy life more than those of us who work hard to be well-behaved, and dutifully follow the rules?  Why is that?

Because it’s usually true!

Mark Twain once reportedly said that if you don’t smoke, drink, eat to excess, or chase women of easy virtue (he was talking to men), you don’t necessarily live longer, it just seems that way.

Mae West, that queen of playful naughtiness of the 20th century, once famously said, “When I’m good, I’m very good.  But when I’m bad, I’m better.”  Mae West was always challenging conventional sensibilities, especially for women, and had a ball doing it.

Augustine, before he became “Saint” Augustine once prayed, “Lord, make me chaste and pure, just not yet!”  He wanted to experience more naughty and profane fun, before devoting himself to the sacred.

Even Aristotle, the founding philosopher of virtue ethics, didn’t believe that true virtue was possible (or even desirable!) until middle age; youth was a time to explore the edges of excess, to discover the “golden mean” of virtue by pushing the limits, and finding virtue, in part, by experiencing what it is not….

Of course there is a difference between playful or purposeful naughtiness, and malicious naughtiness, or truly bad behavior that intentionally causes real (or likely) harm to people.  The law also makes the distinction between acts that are malum prohibitum –bad simply because they are prohibited, and acts that are malum en se – bad in themselves.

When I talk about naughtiness in this essay, I am talking about malum prohibitum.

Naughtiness can be more than playfully tweaking convention – the playful puppy tormenting the grouch old cat. Naughtiness can also be purposefully or creatively disruptive.   Thinking or behaving “outside the box,” or “coloring outside the lines” is naughty, no matter how big the box, or how broadly extended the lines.  Naughtiness can be an expression of freedom when creativity has been stifled or not permitted.  When creative and energetic people get bored, they often respond with “naughty” behavior. When leaders capture and engage the creativity of their naughty miscreants, they tap into a great source of energy and innovation.  Then the leader’s challenge is to keep that naughty energy inside acceptable boundaries. I have some experience with this, from my years with the Navy SEALs.

Naughtiness can also be extended to purposely ignoring regulations and laws.  The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Review  recently opened with an essay by Charles Murray entitled “50 shades of Red – Regulation Run Amok- and How to Fight Back.” This essay notes how increasingly constricting government regulations are not only impossible to follow, but also frequently work at cross-purposes to the good that regulations seek to promote.  Murray  advocates   ”…. systematic civil disobedience. Not for all regulations, but for the pointless, stupid and tyrannical ones.”  Murray is advocating discrete naughtiness, behavior that is malum prohibitum.

“Pointless, stupid, and tyrannical” extend beyond the statutory into the world of social propriety and conformity, all the way to prejudice, and bigotry.  When faced with peer-pressure to conform, to be “cool,” to tolerate prejudice and immoral behavior, or to follow rules that merely satisfy those who would control us, naughty rebellion can be an act of courage.  Courageously naughty people have disrupted and softened many of the constricting prejudices of our culture.  Our willingness to break those rules and /or to tolerate or even support those who do, is an indicator of a free, vibrant, and healthy culture.

We as Americans, especially should tolerate – and even celebrate –  many versions of naughtiness.  We have just celebrated the 4th of July, recalling the courage of our founding fathers in signing the Declaration of Independence – a very “naughty” rebellion against the enforcers of what was then seen as good order and discipline.  Our innovatively naughty and rebellious spirit has been a key part of what has defined America.

As I write this, I’m attending Stanford University’s Ignite certificate program on entrepreneurship.  I’m learning how innovative entrepreneurs are naughty disruptors, and routinely upset many who are comfortable in the status quo.  Every smart businessperson knows that some aggressive entrepreneur somewhere is working hard to overtake his/her business by completely disrupting and changing the market with a new product or business model.  Those who don’t recognize or accept this reality don’t survive.  Blockbuster ignored and completely underestimated Netflix, who naughtily upset their world.  Look at how the music, phone, airline, taxi and retail industries have been completely disrupted in the last decade or two. And more naughty disruption is coming!

Naughty people disrupt and challenge the status quo – either playfully, like Mae West or Bill Murray, or as entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos (Amazon), or Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp (Uber,) or as idealistic revolutionaries, like Sam Adams, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King.  Naughtiness (malum prohibitum) is a creative expression of the human spirit and the source of much human progress.

“Living well” demands that we exercise our freedom to break the rules sometimes, playfully, professionally, or idealistically, and in so doing, we must expect some will be offended.   But in being naughty, we must also exercise reason and good judgment in selecting which rules we break, when, how, and why, and we must own the consequences of our naughtiness.  When we choose to be disruptive and naughty, we should consider the values and context we are disrupting, and be on guard that our naughtiness does not violate truly important values (e.g. respect for human dignity), nor creep into the area of malum en se – doing real or likely harm to others –  to merely scratch a naughty itch.

I conclude by challenging you to think a little differently about being naughty, and to reconsider your “Naughtiness Toleration Threshold.”   Give naughtiness a bit more respect, and when appropriate, even celebrate its creativity and disruption.  Being naughty is a very human expression of our will to rebel and be free.

So when you feel it, dare to get out there and enjoy a little more freedom!  Be naughty – at least a little bit!   I think you’ll be glad you did.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfiits. The rebels. The trouble makers….the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race foreward.”   Steve Jobs in Apple’s Emmy-award winning “Think Different.” campaign.

9 thoughts on “On Being Naughty: Part 2 of “Being Good or Living Well”

  1. Bob,

    I like it. The foibles of those who were truly great have often troubled me, but human nature is a complex thing after all, and every trait may contain its opposite. Maybe Nelson’s dalliance with Emma Hamilton was of a piece with his career as a tactical innovator and courageous combat leader. The stated goals of USMC recruit training are discipline+spirit. Discipline without spirit is a dull and yes tyrannical business. Mere rule-following doesn’t get you very far.

    I think I have an idea for some creative insubordination today…



    • Reed – I’m sure you have had challenges managing your naughty impulses in the academic environment where you work. Creative subordination – we learn that well in the military, don’t we?! Thanks – I always love your input! Bob


      • You got that right. I’m probably lucky I work in a sorta-military environment. The military sure can provide a reality check on dumb ideas that can get you or your friends/troops killed. I clipped a cartoon from the Marine Times a few weeks ago. An officer and a GySgt are looking at a map. The Gunny says, “With all due respect sir, I think it’s a stupid idea.” The officer says, “You’re thinking tactically Gunny. Think strategically.” Gunny says, “OK sir, everybody thinks it’s a stupid idea” !

        Liked by 1 person

    • Proverbs 31. Does not matter whether your inside, outside, or going through the box. Either you walk the talk or you don’t.


  2. I like the choice of the word naughty. It implies breaking rules that are just fine to be broken, and it has a mischievous undertone that makes you want to root for whoever it is that’s doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael – thanks I like the word as well – in that it gives some lee-way for interpretation. I’ve gotten some feedback from others that maybe I’ve spent too long in Palo Alto, using words like ‘naughty, and buying a Hybrid. Next (they say) I’ll become a vegetarian – and who knows after that!?
      “Mischievous” is another great word for playful. Disruptive and rebellious cover broader and more serious aspects. In this essay, I just barely mentioned the risks and potential problems with ‘naughty’ and the gray area between mischievous naughty and destructive, selfish, or even malicious naughty. Great topic for a conversation, lubricated with adult beverages. Bob


  3. Bob: I am being forced to file a lawsuit against you and your “Be a little naughty”campaign! How dare you steal my thunder? How dare you encourage milk toast humanoids, comfortable in their mindless “everything is beautiful, in it’s own way” nonsense to venture into the “you are all full of bullshit” territory which I inhabit with only a deserving few. Next thing you know, some off them will actually start growing spines! Next thing you know they will start feeling their oats and start questioning local authorities, their upbringing and their own values! Where then shall the misanthrope reside and prosper?
    Bill Strocco SR

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill – your comments live up to your “junk yard dog” reputation! Thanks -always love your comments -representing the underrepresented misanthropes of the world. Some have trouble being naughty; others like you and I have trouble managing our naughtiness! 🙂 Bob


  4. Hi Bob,
    Normally I would say BEING is always the the best way to BE. Preceptions of Good, Bad, Happy, Sad, etc all are just that an illusion based on what we are allowing or willing to see. I think the ‘norms’ are difficult for people to get out of because it is not as well accepted. People have a need to be accepted by others over themselves (really too bad and completely outta sync)

    I have heard great things about that weekend event at Standford. I would love to see your blog on your takeaways.

    Being In Sync,



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