No, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide blinded or guided by some strange heard phenomena. It’s a common misconception but for the sake of argument we’ll employ the power of this engrained (not so) urban legend here to depict the urge to blindly follow a mass.
Belonging and being accepted is one of our most fundamental psychological needs and some of us spend our whole lives governed by the motivation to achieve exactly this, a moment when we’re part of something bigger, nodding away any trace of originality. We’ll often, in the process of enculturation develop a bit of a schizoid split, having to deny bits of our person, push them deep down into, what Jung calls, a shadow. But’s that can be an acceptable price and sacrifice for the coveted prize of belonging and the subsequent protection, security and comfort of the mass and a community. Being socialized means being able to play nice with others, cooperate, grow and advance together and it’s largely a good thing. But, as we’ve recently spoke regarding the hormesis principle, there is such a notion as too much of a good thing.
The evolution of societies needed structure and a hands to implement it but, at the same time, there was a steady influx of the new, ground-breaking and ceiling shattering ideas, things that seemed so farfetched to the comfortable mass that only a few could see. These few are usually labelled as mad, insane, and socially awkward. They are shunned or patronised as quirky or funny. Most things we see and use in everyday reality now were conceived not by one of the heard but by those who were standing outside looking in, avoiding the metaphorical cliff. They weren’t isolated because they aimed to revolt but It was the natural state of that individual, which deemed the club it so wanted to belong to as unnecessary, unsatisfactory or lacking in the end. These people would be your assorted weirdoes, those who may not be able to maintain eye contact or schmooze their way through a networking event, but have better solutions than anyone in the room about what to change in the company for the next quarter. They are the quiet kids that never really excelled at dodge ball, teen drinking or standardized testing. We like to label things today, grab large medical books and pin the diagnosis as the tail on a paper donkey. And we tell them they are different and therefore have a disorder, not that they have it even but that they are it – you are depressed, you are bipolar, you are borderline… Your culture would not be nearly as complex and beautiful without the weirdoes. Conforming is not an option because the existing structure and norm just takes a too large chunk of their unsung and often unrecognized genius.
It is highly interesting as cross disciplinary research starts showing the same things. In the wide population the percentage of inventors and innovators has always been around 2%. These are the people not concerned with the “we’ve always done it this way” phrases. Simultaneously, through the ages, the percentage of people with what would now be considered a mental illness or disorder is the same and most of the new advances came from the crossover point. The lineage of madness on the cutting edge of art, philosophy, science and any faculty worth acquiring is well documented. This is not in favour of glorification or romanticizing of real life threatening or debilitating illnesses that need treatment, but a call to pay attention that some discomfort is good and that different doesn’t always mean ill.
In the old cultures the weirdoes of today were those regarded as shamans, wise men, prophets and visionaries. For us they are damaged and broken … until they succeed and make something profitable – then we endearingly call them eccentric, since you cannot be “mad” if your idea worked, right. Ain’t that funny? The diagnosis never changed, we just came to see something they saw long before it existed. What makes you think that eccentric is bad or the centre such a good place to be? It’s just the least common denominator, a safe zone, and you already know that the magic happens outside of safety, in the new. If you’ve got an idea, theory or a dream that you believe could actually work and make things better, maybe it’s time to be a bit weird and mad, to go ex-centre, askew and look at things sideways. The regular head tilt angle is just the base line. Tilt your head some more and experiment. The cliff is inevitable for all of us. But before the time for the swan (or lemming) dive comes, there has never been a time riper than now to try and be as big weirdo as you wish. Weirdoes are the odd (wo)man out and rightly so that they stay out not toget sullied by the norm. May there be many more of them.