Friday, February 18, 2011

LIVING MINDFULLY IN A WORLD FULL OF NORMOPATHS

'To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day,
to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.'
e. e. cummings

'The moment we want to be something we are no longer free.'
J. Krishnamurti


I won't be pulling any punches in this post.


I have been re-reading Will There Really Be a Morning? Not the poem by Emily Dickinson (although that is reproduced in the book as well), but the largely ghosted autobiography of the famous American stage, screen, radio and television actress Frances Farmer (pictured below). The Nirvana song "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle", written by fellow Seattle resident Kurt Cobain, was named after the late actress.

Ms Farmer had a sad and troubled life, and psychiatry, as it was once practised in various places around the world, did not serve her well, to put it mildly. She spent some 8 years as an inmate in a state mental asylum deprived of all civil liberties. During that time she was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats, and poisoned by tainted food. She was chained in padded cells, strapped into straightjackets, and half drowned in ice baths, and may even have been made the subject of a transorbital lobotomy ... all because she had attitude, she made some bad judgments, and she behaved idiosyncratically at times.

Farmer writes in her book, “Once the finger of suspicion is pointed at an individual, the stigma remains. Any unusual act or reckless behavior triggers a consequent doubt as to that person's sanity." She also writes, "[I]t is a fine legal distinction to judge whether an individual is eccentric or insane. None is safe from this danger despite constitutional protection." I agree.
We live in a world of conformity, a world full of crushingly boring “normopaths”, that is, mindless people who are almost pathologically determined to be just like other people ... all of them fellow travellers in what Ernest Hemingway called "the millenium of the untalented". (I love that phrase!) 

These people must have the same things as others, especially material things and houses (the latter often taking the form of tasteless but pretentious "McMansions" ... those in Australia generally being made with tacky fibre cement cladding). They commit themselves to dressing like others (designer clothing and sunglasses), eating the same trendy looking food as others, working long hours like others (the Lucille Ball "I have to work or I am nothing" [her exact words] mentality), believing the same things about life as others ("Life's for living!" ... Really? How profound!), and generally keeping up with others. They have a fear, indeed almost a phobia, of being different ... and, worse still, of being perceived by others to be different.

Watch this clip from the old Candid Camera television program (courtesy YouTube and Viacom), and see for yourself the power of conformity in action. Would you or I be any different if we were in that elevator?



We live in a new Dark Age of Puritanism and wowserism in which it is no longer socially acceptable to be different. There is little or no tolerance for those who are, or choose to be, idiosyncratically different, let alone eccentric ... especially in the business world and in the professions (particularly law). There is a very limited range of what is deemed by society, captains of industry and others in positions of power to be “acceptable” behaviour.

I dislike normopaths immensely. I have suffered at the hands of some extremely unpleasant ones. Quite a few of these people were high-level managers. These often ruthlessly ambitious but otherwise socially intelligent people tend to rise to the top in organizations because for the most part they don't have enough talent to stay at the bottom ... something these driven people are generally aware of themselves, but are extremely good at concealing from most others.

I do not suffer any longer at the hands of these people. I choose to be different. I choose to be myself. I am free, and there are no chains that bind me.

What, you may ask, has all this to do with Mindfulness? Well, a fair bit. You see, Mindfulness is all about gaining self-knowledge and insight into ourselves. We come to see ourselves as we really are. We learn, over time, to accept ourselves as we are.

Naturally, if we are on any path of self-improvement, we will seek to change for the better those things in us that need changing and that we are capable of changing. However, we no longer seek to be like others, because we are comfortable with ourselves. We no longer judge or condemn ourselves for being different. Indeed, we are proud to be different.

Finally, be yourself. Be the very best person you can be, and in truth are.

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