The One And The Many

I am still reading Paul Johnson – well, I’m not reading much, as any form of mental effort seems to result in lengthy naps.  I do think I’m over whatever the heck this was, but two and a half weeks of being ill, culminating in a stomach disturbance does leave you somewhat weakened.  So I’m reading this book in installments, mostly when I am eating or doing something else that won’t take a long time.  (I like books of essays or very short stories for this, because it allows me to read, then go back to what I was doing without being captured by a novel.)  I hate eating alone, so I read through it.

Anyway, one thing I’ve got as I read about all these founders of the currently predominating intellectual fashion, is that most of them hated people.  They “loved” broad categories of humans: the workers, the downtrodden, women, students, intellectuals.  They loved these classes in the abstract, often not knowing a single member of them, or if they do behaving horribly to the individual they knew.  In fact, that’s pretty much a given.  These men of intellect and supposed heart, usually left a wide swath of destruction in their personal lives – horribly mistreated parents, abandoned and mistreated women, emotionally crippled children, abused mistresses and unacknowledged illegitimate children.

I’d like to say this is because these thinkers and artists made a philosophy that dehumanizes people central to their life.  I’m not sure that’s the right way about though.

Reading about these people also brings a squirming sense of self-identification.  Oh, not fully – though for a mental packrat like me, it’s impossible not to sympathize with Marx’s issues with not fully integrating data – because their defects of character aren’t mine (though I have defects aplenty.)  In fact, in some ways they are almost the opposite.  But I can tell how they got there and by what pathway.  So could almost every reader of this blog.

To be absolutely blunt, most of these people were Odds, a name we came up with in the blog for those people who never quite fit in society, who are “goats” in the human flock of sheep.

These people are often smart, or at least test smart in IQ tests, which is one form of “smartness,” and are often identified as “autistic” of some form (About a year ago I had to bite my fingers hard not to tell an SF editor who was lamenting his son’s diagnosis as Aspergers, that I very much doubted the kid was any such thing, because the symptoms he listed were exactly the same as most people in SF/F and in fact a lot of Geeks:  Other kids at private school rejected him on sight and just didn’t like him; he was awkward for his age and could not ride a bike or jump rope; his fine motor control lagged his other development.  That pretty much fits everyone in my family as kids, with minor exceptions.  And NO ONE on my dad’s side has ever, that we know, been able to ride a bike or jump rope [something that bewilders my mother.]  Notwithstanding which some of us are socially gifted and almost the opposite of aspergers in affect.)  That diagnosis, as mentioned here, has got so broad as to be meaningless and seems to be in practicality “This one thing is not like the others.”

But they might not be smart across the board, and it seems to be more of a personality thing, or perhaps – who knows – a subtle body-clues thing.

Whatever causes it, the Odds don’t seem to fit in front the earliest age, and it seems to have nothing to do with personality as such.  You might have the brightest, happiest, most engaging toddler in the world, but he enters pre-school and you find the other kids overwhelmingly rejecting him, so he stands alone in the playground, while other kids play.

I am an odd Odd, which figures.  Until and unless I found myself in a position when other considerations made it impossible for me to have friends (a period of about two years when I learned what most other Odds experience their entire lives) or to be popular, I was always fairly popular.  Even when I couldn’t – motor control being a mess, though that might trace back to being premature – join in the agility games that were most of what girls in my elementary school played, I simply convinced them what they REALLY wanted to play was basically RPG with acting out of whatever book I’d read recently.  We played Robin Hood, and Three Musketeers, and War of The Roses, and World War II spies, and of course cowboys and Indians.  (This led our teacher to think we were the oddest bunch of girls ever to cross the school.  She apparently never figured out it was just one ODD subversive girl.)  Interestingly it never occurred to me to play the less physical stuff I did read, like Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories.  Mostly, I think, because I liked playing parts that got to use a sword or shoot.

After my time in Coventry, that form of popularity returned.  Through high school I was a noisy (if not influential) member of my form (my influence was mostly bad, like convincing the others it was a really good idea to sabotage the electrical system.  Don’t ask.)  One form of popularity at least I enjoyed, which was that everyone wanted to read the novels I wrote during the boring classes.

And in college I was a member of several intersecting and often mutually inimical groups.

But here’s a thing – even though I seem to handle the social stuff better than most odds, and even though people don’t tend to reject me on sight (It’s gone now, and I was never aware of it when I had it, but I wonder how much that ability to overcome most Odds social ostracism thing was driven by physical attractiveness.  Humans react oddly to beauty) in one respect I am still an odd – that is, while groups claimed me, while many people might think we were very close, I always had a sense of inner isolation – of not quite belonging.

If this had only shown up after the two years of Coventry, I’d say that it was driven by it, but I don’t think so.  My very first grades said something like “doesn’t play well with others” – which in my teacher’s parlance meant exactly that.  I would either be the leader of the group, or I really didn’t know what to do.  It wasn’t so much an objection to playing along, as the fact that what most other kids wanted to do was incomprehensible to me and what they found fun was either boring or  terrifying (and in an amazing amount of circumstances both).

And in college, while a ton of groups claimed me – the theater group, the would-be writers, the poets, the fashionable girls, the linguists, the philosophers, and most oddly of all since even back then I made little secret of my hatred for the ideology, the communists – I never felt I belonged to any of them.  I could hang out, or have a couple of them walk with me between classes.  I could care for them, individually – but I never felt as though I were a part of the group.  Even in the middle of, say, a Saint Lucia party, with the Swedish group, even when I’d had WAY too much to drink, I was still remote, inside, observing.  I might be joking and quipping and even leading on the dreadful puns and all, but inside, I was apart, not quite a part of this.

In this, I think I’m a typical odd, though I don’t know how I got that way.  I think most Odds get that way from physically standing apart and observing, so that even if they overcome it in later life, they never really feel they joined in.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps it’s something inherent in us.

And most of these philosophers, economists, artists were Odds of the sort that, for some reason, were rejected by others at an early age, and were held away from a group.

It’s easy in those circumstances – I remember my two years of hell – to start thinking of people in the abstract.  You’re not engaged with individuals, one on one, so your mind starts thinking of humans as categories.  (Of course dividing reality into categories is part of the human mind and its functioning.)

First of all you identify “like me” and “not like me.” I did this as early as elementary school and used my relative influence and my not inconsiderable size (I was larger than most boys/men my generation in Portugal) to either psychologically or physically protect the other Odds.  (This earned me an… well… odd group of friends which persisted through a great deal of my life and might still persist except for my leaving the country behind.)  But then, if you’re Odd and you know it, and you never quite fit in, you start looking for reasons why and assigning blame.

Somewhere in my heart there’s a cold spot for beautiful and fashionable blond women.  Fortunately it doesn’t apply to blond women in the individual, even if they’re very pretty and very fashionable, but only to a general category.  This means they might end up dying in my stories a lot, or being right b*tches in my stories, but it doesn’t affect how I view those I meet.

Marx and the like went for broader categories and out of the classroom/city/village.  “The rich”, “the oppressor class”, “Greedy people” became the scapegoats for the odd.

And because they were all typical “odds” and didn’t make friends easily, they were able to see these classes of people in the pure abstract, and the classes they wanted to defend in the pure abstract too.

When this is your formative years – when you’re left so much alone that in Pratchett’s brilliant phrase, you fall too much under your own influence – you end up “knowing” several things that just ain’t so.  One of them is that humans are interchangeable within the group they belong to.  “Oppressed workers” are oppressed workers, not Bob down the street.  The other is that there is an easy explanation for “why things are so messed up.”  And, probably the most destructive idea of all, is that humans are infinitely perfectable.

The only person able to think humans are that moldable at will is someone who has never really interacted much with humans in the individual.  You can look at categories of humans, throughout history and say things like “Workers have become less violent.”  And this leads you believe you can lead that change.

You can’t, of course.  What history masks and can’t show is how many times there was no fundamental change in a group or class, just a change in the ability to express it.  And how that change was unintended and the result of new technologies selecting a whole different group of people into that class or group.  Instead, it looks like a whole group of people changed beyond all recognition.

Meanwhile, if you have a lot of friends – or even better, friends, acquaintances and familiar strangers – whom you know close up and personal, one on one, you know how hard it is to change people even in minor things.  (In fact, if you’ve ever tried to change yourself, even if you succeeded, you know how near-impossible it is.)

And it would never occur to you to construct an entire system that depends on changing people wholesale into more perfect beings which will then be able to live in this system.

It also would never occur to you that – to go Trekkie – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” because you’d go “What many?  Which one?” having known several crowds of useless shifters and knowing they have no right to what one single determined individual created or fought for.

But these … midwives of the twentieth century were Odds who never had much contact with individuals as equals or one on one, and therefore thought of people as broad categories, and found humans – who didn’t act like the humans in their heads – infuriating and sometimes despicable.  And who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just change individual humans out of all inconvenient traits.

In thinking about people this way, they devolved to thinking about people as objects, which might be the worst sin of all.

We live in an era when the creations of a few – mostly odds – have influenced the entire society with the idea of “how stories go.”  I wonder how many readers/watchers/listeners realize how little personal experience of individuals most of the creators have, and how much they rely on the theories of other Odds long dead.

This was, of course, at the back of the idea of my future history, where thy create “perfect rulers” who, in fact, aren’t because they aren’t a thing like those they’d govern and in a lot of ways they’re wounded just by being themselves.

All this to say that any collectivist thought that treats people as a lumpen group and which proposes to apply that to governance (which note my theory of how we Odds influence the world doesn’t) must be examined very carefully.

People who love the group but hate the individual might not in fact be able to perceive individuals as such or take human nature as it is.


58 responses to “The One And The Many

  1. Reblogged this on This, that, and the other thing and commented:
    Since the world is conspiring against me writing this week (Singing “I’m busy, busy, terribly busy”), I’ll post this interesting post of Sarah’s rather than my own. Hopefully I’ll get back to my stuff soon.

  2. Wayne Blackburn

    In some ways, I’m just the opposite of you – i never had muscular control problems, was a pretty good gymnast for the boys in my area (as in, not as good as the cheerleaders, all girls, who got in lots more practice, but better than most everyone else), pitched little league baseball, rode a bicycle well except for not doing stunts, but I was shy, kind of timid until I got worked up about something, and was never a leader of anything. And the only popularity I “enjoyed” was being known for being an easy target for teasing.

    Fortunately, I guess, I realized that at least half the reason I wasn’t part of any groups was because I didn’t think like other people, or else I might have gone the Bill Ayers route, except that the casualty counts would have been much larger, because I’m an engineering type, not a plotter. My friends tell me they hope that nothing ever happens to send me off the deep end, because I might get a little careless in retaliating, and wind up removing the crust from the whole planet, or something (I’m sure I would not destroy more than one continent – sheesh!).

  3. One of the better explanations of this kind of character and mind-set was in a mystery novel, of all things; Robert Barnard’s Skeleton in the Grass.
    ( It features an upper-crust intellectual family in 1930s England who are tremendously engaged and concerned about humanity in general, but who don’t seem to care very much for the real people that they lived among.

  4. I have seen both sides of being Odd– the leader urging others onward and the loner on the sidelines. I thought it was just a problem with writer types to have that observer mentality. I was always aware that there was some part of my mind that was analyzing everything done and said every day.

    Reading has always been my way of coping– and escaping. My nerves get raw when I am physically around too much noise or too many people. Plus I was never good physically– I used to run a lot and fall a lot. I can’t ride a bicycle or anything that requires balance. It took me a long time to get the hang of driving. I have been hit on the nose by baseballs, footballs, basketballs, and volleyballs. I never did well with team sports– although I really enjoyed karate when I was doing it in my late 20s.

    So forth– and so on. I like music and quiet. I can hear the tick of a clock from two rooms away. My hearing is much better than my eyesight. I had to have laser surgery to even be able to see people. 😉 It was amazing.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Interestingly, I had the most “alone” time I have had in years a few weeks ago, in Wal-Mart. Something about being in a crowd where no one knows you, and not being in a rush to get done at the store and get home, has the capability for someone like me to get a near-perfect feeling of freedom.

      • Interesting indeed– I just can’t do it. 😉 Of course it doesn’t help that I have a suppressed immune system and I have to stay away from people. I get more like a hermit every year- TG for the internet.

        • My problem is that such places are chock full of people moving significantly more slowly than I want to go, stopping at unpredictable intervals for no discernible reason and lurching into my route. I feel like a gazelle caught in a herd of bison.

          I have been given to understand that shooting them or thrashing them with a cudgel is generally frowned upon, but truthfully I think it would improve the species.

          • Had to laugh at the gazelle/bison reference, recalling a description of your physique, and the general physique of those I commonly see in Wal-mart.

  5. Here’s a story for you!

    There was a SF con going on, and a bunch of attendees and a couple of airline pilots were waiting for the elevator except there was something wrong, so the con-goers went off in search of the stairs, and one pilot turned to the other and said, “Follow the weirdos, they always know where the stairs are.”

  6. The problem with dividing people into categories is that we don’t fit neatly into their little boxes, because few people are just one thing, fit into just one category.

    For example, the much vaunted “gender gap” politicians and journalists love to go on about is an illusion. Subdivide women into single/married and the gap appears much differently. Sort out the African-American women from the larger group (because Black women vote Democrat almost 96%) and the gap goes away. Separate out church-going women and you get a different picture of the electorate. I venture that if you separated mothers of boys from mothers of girls (yes, I know that some are mothers of both – that is part of the problem with categorization) and you would find a political gap. The reductio ad absurdum of sorting humanity according to their private parts is … well, absurd.

    I expect my household is not the only one which watched these Sesame Street exercises and tried to work out different criterion for deciding how “one of these things just doesn’t belong” — — for example, in the selection provided the cat is the only one of the four that is covered in fur, the turtle is the only one that is amphibious, the elephant and the car both have trunks, the car and the turtle both have hard exteriors … it all depends on how you parse.

  7. Boy, this one resonates – both with your main point, and your personal experiences. I didn’t have the traumas you did in your life, but I’m an Odd, too. Like you, I get along with people, but prefer them on an individual basis. I’m not a joiner and large groups make me nervous – don’t like the strings holding me. Plus large gatherings are kind of overwhelming.

    And yes, I have a cold spot for beautiful, fashionable THIN women – and yes, I know plenty of people who fit that who I like, but there’s a type. (I do think that, while all pretty girls are not mean, a very large proportion of mean girls are pretty, because they can get away with it.)

    They loved these classes in the abstract, often not knowing a single member of them
    Ooo, shades of Screwtape Letters here, someone who says wonderful things about People in the abstract, but are rotten to people on a day-to-day basis, those are on their way to Our Father Below. I’ve had that one on the brain a lot lately. I recall a Pratchett Vimes line – Most people who talked incessantly about The People had never actually met The People, and wouldn’t like them if they ever did.

    I also wonder about the people I know who claim to be on the side of The People, by creating an all-controlling fascist State – though they’d be stunned if you told them that. (In college, I knew a lot of people who were the only super bright kid in some podunk little town, and that creates that hostile Me vs Them reaction pretty strongly. Some got over it, but others, the ones who stayed in academia, or other divorced-from-reality fields, they never have.)

    • Boy does that line about the super bright kid in the podunk town resonate. When you get to a major Ivy-type college, all the folks not from the northeast tend to fall into that category (I was one myself, from the midwest). And they did NOT do well after college, those that even made it through in how ever many years it took them. They could not adjust to fellow students of the well-rounded WASP variety who did very well without being so one-sidedly (and show-offedly) brilliant (and who went on to lead pretty good lives).

      I learned the lesson, by close observation of the various ruins that resulted, that character was even more important than smarts, and that was not my default position when I was, say, 13-17, when I was dying to meet other brainiacs.

    • I knew a lot of people who were the only super bright kid in some podunk little town, and that creates that hostile Me vs Them reaction pretty strongly. Some got over it, but others, the ones who stayed in academia, or other divorced-from-reality fields, they never have.

      These are exactly the type of people who flee “my little town blues” for the Bright Lights of Hollywood or New York, NY — and carry with them forever a disdain for the yokels who failed to recognize their genius.

  8. And yet the most resolute anticollectivist I have read is Ayn Rand, who totally fits Johnson’s profile and who quite clearly was what you describe as an Odd.

    • Yes. I didn’t everyone goes wrong, just that I can see why the people profiled did. Most people here are odds and we don’t like the collective stuff.

      I wonder what makes it split off…

      • I have one friend, who, sadly, is devoutly socialist (though her delusions are more the benevolent ones) – very bright, only bright kid in a backwoods town growing up. I think she’s always just wanted desperately to belong and dreams up collectivist societies that she would feel welcome in.

        • In a socialist society she would probably dream of a capitalist one, or declare it wasn’t socialist and continue to dream.

          Rebellions attract misfits because it’s a lot easier to think all of society is doing something wrong than to think that you are.

        • … dreams up collectivist societies that she would feel welcome in.

          Welcome right up until the moment when she suggested a different way of doing things, or that the collective might be wrong about something … or until she told Dear Leader off and suggested he could go screw himself, she wasn’t interested.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        One thing to remember about Ayn Rand is that she saw a collectivist society first hand (ie the Soviet Union). So while she “fits the model” in many ways, since she knew what the Soviet Union was like, she (IMO) went off the deep end in another way.

      • I think we aren’t joiners, and we know that we can’t make the others over into our own image (and I think most of us wouldn’t want to). I certainly knew collectivism was gawdawful, because I knew it would cater to the majority, and I’d never get anything I wanted that way.

      • I could almost think Robinson Jeffers had it right in “Theory of Truth” (do you know his poetry? I think there’s a fair chance you would like much of it):

        Why does insanity always twist the great answers?
        Because only
        tormented persons want truth.
        Man is an animal like other animals, wants food and success and
        women, not truth. Only if the mind
        Tortured by some interior tension has despaired of happiness:
        then it hates its life-cage and seeks further,
        And finds, if it is powerful enough. But instantly the private
        agony that made the search
        Muddles the finding.

        (And he goes on to discuss Lao Tzu, Jesus, and Buddha as examples.)

    • Ayn Rand always struck me as Marx with changed lighting. Both of them took one element in the productive process and proceeded to build up a system on the theory that nothing else mattered at all.

      • Also on the theory that nothing but the productive process mattered at all. It has been pointed out that Marx and Rand commit mirror images of the same fallacy: the assumption that man is an economic animal and nothing more.

        • That, at least, is provably false from Rand’s own texts, both fictional and philosophical. She wrote an entire book on aesthetics in which she described art as fuel for the human spirit; she wrote about sex (also very important to her!) and explicitly rejected the idea of sex as purely physical; above all, she maintained that philosophy—an intellectual activity—was the root of everything else human beings achieved. Rand, more than anyone else, influenced me to think that philosophy was important and to look at the philosophers she admired (primary Aristotle and Aquinas).
          There is a key scene in The Fountainhead where the hero has a chance to design a new bank building—a major step in his career, which is rocky at that point—if he will just agree to give it a simplified classical façade. He turns the job down; the integrity of his buildings matters more to him than making money. Rebuked with being “fanatical and selfless,” he answers, “That’s the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do.”

          • Marx wrote on Shakespeare. Nevertheless, you can see, in both of them, that the roots of their writing, regardless of subject, lie in their treatment of man as an economic animal and nothing more.

            • That’s not the Ayn Rand I read. What I see as central in Ayn Rand is not a political theme but an ethical one: the celebration of Aristotle’s megalopsychos (“great-souled man”). Her portrayal of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead reflects what Aristotle said about the crown of the virtues, practically line by line.

  9. “People who love the group but hate the individual might not in fact be able to perceive individuals as such or take human nature as it is.”

    The liberal/statist mindset in a nutshell…

  10. It’s been said many times of course, but I thought it best said by a Peanuts cartoon I saw many years ago–ask someone about Charles Schultz if you’re not familiar since you were doubtlessly in Portugal for most of his fame. Linus stands alone, raises his hand in a fist and declares, “I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand!” So sad that so many are that way.
    As to writers, yes we’re probably all “odds”, although at least some great writers love people. Ray Bradbury loved just about everybody passionately and always wanted to know who you are.

    • I like most people I meet. I just have issues with them in “classes and groups” — which is why I said I was almost the opposite of this.

      • George Carlin once said: “I love individuals — the problem starts when they all start wearing the same hats, and singing that same songs, and putting together lists of people they are going to visit at three in the morning”.

        And we all know where Gruppengedanken ends up — places like Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, various gulags….

        Ideally, a “group” should not be “we’re all heading the same direction because The Leader said so”; it should be “we’re all heading the same direction because someone made a cogent, coherent argument to do so, and each of us, on his or her own, decided it was the right course to take”.

        • Or, “because we all want to see the same rock formation and only the gal in the lead vehicle has the current map and the key to the gate.” That’s the one time I’ve seen a bunch of geologists agree on much of anything not related to food. 🙂

    • Writers have to understand a great variety of people, most different from ourselves, else we aren’t very good writers at all. But understanding them and belonging to their group are different things.

      • A lot of not very good writers sell very well.

        Many readers are positively repelled by the prospect of encountering characters who actually differ from them.

    • I think most of the Peanuts gang could be characterized as being part of the Odds. They were the kids who hung together because they just did not quite fit in anywhere else. Many of them were brilliant in their own way though.

      • In the 1950s, Peanuts had a number of characters who were not Odds, and whose role in the strip was chiefly to torment Charlie Brown: Violet and Patty (not Peppermint Patty) in particular. Schulz (and his readers, one presumes) soon lost interest in them, and he went on to invent his most memorably weird characters to replace them. The role of Charlie Brown’s tormentor was ably filled by Lucy, all by herself.

        Lucy is not an Odd, but she has the Odd ability to articulate her motives in a way that ordinary conformist people usually don’t. This makes her an excellent villain: a Balaam’s ass that has the power of speech, yet goes on behaving just like an ass, even though it’s obvious that he has the mental equipment to know better.

    • Linus stands alone, raises his hand in a fist and declares, “I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand!”

      On another occasion, Linus announced, ‘I want to be a great philanthropist with somebody else’s money!’ Put those two quotes together, and you have just about summarized the ideology of the average left-wing politician.

  11. Hmm. I have a theory that ‘odds’ who are clever enough to chameleon are unlikely to not know (and even like, and understand as individuals even if they know they are sheep and the odd is a goat). The dangerous area is where someone doesn’t fit and cannot learn to pretend and mix with, and thus does not actually know many sheep at the personal level.
    However these odds are, themselves, harmless. They would have been weird people that muttered to a lot to themselves, and probably eventually got arrested for some sort indecent or insane act, without their personal sheep-flock, those who believe that they are the intended, the chosen ones who will see to the wonderful vision (and not of course live by it themselves) when the revolution comes. Which, um, is not so.

  12. Sarah, has it occurred to you that right-wing Odds may be just as distinctive a character type as left-wing Odds? It seems to me that, whereas LWO’s tend to hate individuals and love character types, RWO’s tend to hate character types and often love individuals.

    And with regard to RWO’s, I’m not just talking about hating the act of classifying people. I’m talking about hating full groups of people. No, I’m not talking about racism, creedism, or the usual suspects; Odds are way too original to pick cliche hatreds like those. RAH had a deep hatred of Communists, for instance–which he picked up way back during his leftist phase, incidentally–but was on personal good terms with, for instance, Frederik Pohl, who had been a CPUSA member at one point, and who kept his leftist ideals even though he became disillusioned with the USSR.

    For myself, I know I tend to react strongly negatively when I hear someone described as “poor,” even though my own financial well-being is nothing to write home about. It’s not about the money, it’s about the undisciplined, selfish lifestyle that I associate with certain people. Yet I’ve had countless friends who were from the wrong side of the tracks. Similarly, I tend to think of union workers as being nasty people, yet I’ve worked well with many of them (in non-union jobs–yes, union workers can and do perform the scab labor they hate so much) and, in fact, at one point in the recent past, actually lost a supervisory position due to my tendency to stand up for my subordinates against the ever-changing company policies.

    (My subordinates mistook me for a nice guy. In actuality, I just thought the company policies were brainless, and that well-treated workers would be better both for the company and for myself. It’s one thing to cut someone’s hours for being a slouch of a worker; it’s quite another to cut them because some Harvard-educated middle manager “proved” it would benefit the company).

  13. Most leaders are Odds, because sheep just don’t lead well. They can be herded by sheepdogs, or a shepherd, or follow a shepherd or a goat, but are generally lost without someone to show them where to go. Odds as goats is a good analogy, they may be a Judas goat, or an intellegent leader who leads the sheep out of danger, or more often they will just go off and not worry or care what the sheep do. But there are also those Odds that are sheepdogs, and those that are wolves. I often think the sheepdogs may be the worst, because they honestly believe that they are herding the sheep out of danger, for their own protection. But most of the time they are in amongst a bunch of cliffs, and when they try and herd them around a narrow ledge to the next valley of safe grazing, all to often the sheep, which aren’t as surefooted as either the goats or the dogs, fall to the rocks below.

  14. Your posts are amazingly thought-provoking.

    Two thoughts. First, (like some before), I immediately think of two literary references. One is in Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape points out to his trainee how useful it is to get the target human focused on the ‘good of humanity’ or some group, while being angry with and mistreating the individual sitting there on the bus or subway. The second is a character in Dickens (Bleak House or David Copperfield, not sure which), who is a mother constantly working on charitable causes while neglecting her own children in her own house.

    Second is something I tend to pound on my kids about: Don’t be mean to someone else (particularly your sibling in this case) for your own pleasure. Rather, be nice, especially to your siblings. I’m repeatedly mortified when I see it (meanness for pleasure) among my own children, and I think my (repeated and ongoing) attempts to guide them out of that behavior have helped. At least while I see flare-ups of mistreatment, I don’t see the constant low-level warfare among my children that I hear about some people experiencing growing up. My oldest is gifted both academically and athletically, and I have had quite a few conversations with him about the right way to treat those he considers ‘weird.’ I am pretty confident he does not mistreat those he considers strange, as in those discussions it’s apparent that there are those who do mistreat these ‘odds.’ He’s also a bit reserved, which is unfortunate, because if he was the outspoken type I suspect his behavior would be a guide for those more included to mistreatment (although maybe not–he doesn’t have a lot of interest in the ‘popular crowd’ either). My second boy is a bit more gregarious, and I think he goes a bit out of his way to be kind to those who are ostracized, bless him. In any case, if everyone, including students, did not show meanness to individuals (including the ‘odds’), and instead chose kindness, our schools and our world would be much better. And there wouldn’t be an ostracized intellectual class ready to help bring down civilization.

  15. I completely understand what it is to be an “odd” in most cases…I was picked on mercilessly throughout elementary and junior high school because I was so poor and uncultured….and though I got older and understood more manners and culture, even my best friends called me “just a little out there.” I am a high school teacher now…well loved by my kids/students…but still an “odd” to my peers…I knew this last year when one of (to everyone else on staff) the ‘oddest’ teachers called *me* an “anomaly.” But, I’ve come to embrace it…it is who I am…and I believe completelty and totally that it is what makes me so insightful, compassionate, and….humble, lol! Seriously…it has made me who I am…and in that, I am grateful for being an “odd.” 🙂

  16. How about being so Odd, even the Odds didn’t know what to do with one? Yo — over here.

    I had Athletic Ability — just not in any sport approved by Authority; I could not throw or catch a ball, but put me on a mountain bicycle on the running track (1/4 mile), and I could lay down 30-second lap times most of the day. (I could run a six-minute mile; the track coach hated me because I stubbornly refused to join the track team.) So I wasn’t Jock enough for the Jocks, but too Jock for the Nerds.

    Opposite applied to the classroom — too smart for the Jocks; not quite smart enough for the Nerds (math and science were never my strong suits, mainly due to poor teachers).

    I’m pretty sure, if any of the people I went to school with are bothering with reunions, they have no idea where I am — and I’m much happier that way.

    • Unrelated, but not by far… Marshall is wearing a beard in a style that causes us to call him “The French Assassin.” Today a friend misunderstood me and said “He’s going to kill Chris French?”

      I have no idea if this was said with glee or dismay.

  17. Love individuals, check. Hate groupthink, check. Yep, I’m pretty sure I’m an Odd. Funny enough, I’m a photographer most summers as it helps bring in a little extra $$. I resisted doing it for years (hubby kept encouraging me to branch out from the surf photography I did for fun) because I told him “I’m not a people person”. But overall, he was right. I enjoy it, once I’m in the moment with the families. But until I’m there, I always have a knot in my belly – probably the irrational fear of being disliked. And some of the families are obviously liberal – but I always find some things to like and enjoy about them. Hubby is an Odd as well, and I’m pretty sure we’ve raised a couple Odds in our daughters. For me, at least, my independent streak is just too wide to be confined – and I’ve struggled with helping my 18 year old square peg to not be forced into society’s round hole.

  18. I came to detest being put into groups because it was the groups that always came after me in Jr. High and High School. Short, fat, female nerds not affiliated with an appropriate subgroup (band nerd, orchestra nerd) tend to make easy targets. I conditioned myself to hide emotions and not to respond to emotional pleas, because of the nasty sense I always got that I might be the target, and because the bullies wanted me to look scared and upset. To this day, if someone starts using emotion to whip up a group, even if it is a sales meeting type happy dance, I go cold.

    What saved me was when I was 13 I found mecha (the Japanese robots) and Anne McCaffrey and Rudyard Kipling. Later on came Hammer’s Slammers and Falkenberg’s Legion. Hey, there are entire planets full of Odds! Who knew? I had a different reality I could hide in, one I could control because I shaped the story.

  19. Pingback: The View From The Foothills » Manners

  20. Ah, yes. I was welcomed (or at least tolerated) by several different groups in high school, but I never felt like I ‘belonged’ with any of them. I did learn how to ride a bicycle, but had a difficult time with any of the ‘ball’ sports, and while I could walk/jog all day (when I was young), I was not fast enough to be on the track team. The Internet has brought me into contact with others like me. I know that if some of us happened to meet in person, we would enjoy it just as much as we enjoy reading and commenting here.

    • My issue with ball sports turned out to be SERIOUS astigmatism, un-diagnosed till my twenties (and then only because I was learning to drive.)

      The thing is that the PE teachers saw the signs of it, but ASSUMED it was because I was a “spoiled little girl” (the fact they got the SIZE wrong should have been a clue.) Because I would rush the ball, then suddenly flinch — ie. it had just “popped” closer unexpectedly and I started.

      So… paying no attention to the fact they were dealing with a kid who wore no makeup (until 18 and this was 7/8/9th grade) and who wore her brother’s hand me downs (mostly sweaters with leather elbows and dress pants that mom cut down for me. Sometimes with knee patches) they went to “Girl” “Flinches when ball comes near face.” “She’s afraid it will hurt her beauty” (which I was unaware of having at the time) Therefore “Spoiled little girl” and “this can be fixed by my standing over her and screaming my head off.”

      Curiously the only thing it did was have me find ever cleverer ways to avoid ball sports.

      • I have astigmatism too– which is probably why I have a wide variety of ball-type injuries. Plus I was almost legally-blind until I had my laser-eye surgery. I have a second cousin who is legally blind (although corrected enough by glasses that she can operate in the real world). There is both near-sightedness and far-sightedness in the family.

      • I do have an astigmatism in my right eye.

        • When you tell the “nice” policeman that you didn’t see that car, astigmatism is not considered a reason. You get the ticket anyway. Thankfully up until recently I had really good reflexes as long as it wasn’t a ball to the nose.

          • My glasses are supposed to correct for that. Luckily, I haven’t had that experience… so far! <..>

      • I went from moderately capable of catching a thrown ball or Frisbee (object in flight) to almost completely incapable of even swatting it down when I went from no glasses to bifocals. I lost the ability to swat a fly or moth, as well.

        OTOH, I now just use reading glasses and, while still incapable of doing more than batting an object in flight I am able to read. This is a completely acceptable trade-off … the more so as my knees no longer permit running.