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Reflections on the high cost of being normal…and of being abnormal

“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful”

 

                                             Carl Jung

 

I often wish I could meet Carl Jung. I want to discuss a whole raft of his ideas with him. Like the one above. I am attracted to this idea because I have never really been very normal. Now I realize he is not saying “To be abnormal is the ideal aim of the successful” but I am flirting with this idea.

 

I never set out to avoid being normal. Most of the time I tried to act from a place of integrity and fidelity to my sense of right and wrong. I was quickly disabused of the notion that these behaviors were compliant with “norms”.  I started stacking up experiences like cords of wood where others tried to help me become “normal”, what I began to describe to myself as trying to “fix me”.  This happened early and often.

 

There are some entertaining stories I sometimes share with friends about the “fix Phyllis” projects others initiated. Recounting them can be hilarious, sometimes sad, often unsettling. So I have spent some time trying to understand the strange commitment of some folks to imposing on others their personal narrative of “normalcy”. I have watched, listened, started conversations, asked questions.

 

What I have concluded is that most people are following all those rules to increase their sense of safety and certitude. Those who break the rules evoke fear.  The inner narrative of fear goes something like this:

 

  1. What are the rules. I must know all the rules and I will commit to following all of them.
  2. If I follow all the rules I will be acceptable, safe, part of the universe of those who are right. I do not want to be wrong.
  3. Oh dear, there is someone breaking the rules. This will disrupt the entire system.
  4. They are scaring me.
  5. They must be stopped.
  6. We must all work hard and insist that these disrupters are dealt with.
  7. They must follow the rules.
  8. Then our system will continue to flourish and I will again be safe.
  9. Stop, stop, stop…. you must stop.
  10. If necessary, we will punish you.

 

That’s pretty much the script. It is very consistent.

 

Now the temptation is to try to explain my abnormal behavior, as if the other is seeking a dialog about variance. Fear is not looking for a dialog; fear is looking for compliance.

 

This may in part explain why we have trouble bridging our differences.

 

To comfort myself, I remind myself that I am abnormal, but pretty successful.

 

Reflections on Complexity

Since my late teens, I have been fascinated by the emerging science of complexity, one that both attracted me and rendered me immobile. I sensed its disruptive potential, and was busy trying to meet the standards of a logical, analytic and “scientific” academic community enmeshed in small discoveries that would not upset essential assumptions about “reality”. I knew that complexity was disruptive.

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