Which one of us hasn’t felt, at some point in our life, that we’re a square peg in a round hole?
The English have traditionally had a reputation for eccentricity, which they are quirkily proud of: it’s only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ who would dream of going out in the midday sun. Terry Pratchett, Tilda Swinton, Grayson Perry for example, are all high-profile people who have made a mark in their various fields alongside quite unusual personal characteristics which have formed a significant part of their appeal. Individuality, freedom of choice, personal lifestyle… these are all buzzwords in our era, which affirm our expectation that to take my own path, to be fully myself is a part of my birthright as a human.
And yet for many of us, this experience is tainted by quite another response to us – that the way in which ‘I am’ seems alien to others.
'I somehow don’t fit in, I am out of step'… that what those around us ‘get’ and which seems perfectly normal to them just doesn’t connect and make sense for me.
Individuality, it seems, is not always welcomed, and this can create problems for members of a species that from its earliest beginnings has been social, interconnected, dependent on belonging to survive and thrive. So, what does it mean if you just don’t ‘get’ me? Over the years it can add up to a biting sense of loneliness about never having been truly ‘met’.
Difference can come in many forms
The struggles facing a range of minorities are at least to some extent recognised by our society’s patchy efforts to offer equal respect to people of varying religions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on. But some forms of difference are more subtle, perhaps harder to pin down and articulate, more to do with personality and social style, emotional responsiveness and other elusive traits.
In former times, a mythology developed that there exist changelings, babies exchanged in their cradles by envious fairies, and replaced by eerie lookalikes who look ‘normal’ to those around them, but somehow feel weird. This idea gives some expression to the dilemmas faced by those who in some way don’t fully fit in to the family or society in which they are raised – and who often take on board and internalise the notion that to be different is somehow to be wrong.
Keith and Polly have been involved in the field of psychotherapy and personal development for many years, and in recent decades have witnessed how modern research into the brain has revealed a very wide range of neurodiversity among us, not just one way of experiencing the world.
Possibilities are now opening up to re-evaluate our ways of perceiving and understanding, so that our own capabilities and limitations can be seen as simply personal, not judged as better or worse, right or wrong.
Introverts, for example, get a poor press in our rather loud and exhibitionistic culture – yet their way of responding to the world is as necessary and valid as anyone else’s. So-called ‘personality disorders’ and syndromes from Tourettes to the variants of what may be placed on the autistic spectrum, are also starting to be more clearly recognised. Some of the people experiencing these are helping us to find ways to reclaim their validity and thereby to make the most of the opportunities that accompany them: Stephen Fry’s attitude to his bi-polar condition comes to mind in this context.
This is a key issue for many among us, because this level of eccentricity is not simply about behaviour, which can be altered to fit social environments: all of us have learned in during our development how to copy with varying degrees of success the acceptable ways of acting in our social world. No, the damage goes deeper, because this kind of oddness is about who I am: my way of seeing the world, my preferences and interests, my capacities and fundamental nature are somehow out of step with those around me. This can create a profound sense of alienation and consequent dismal self-esteem.
"The art of psychosynthesis is to transform the often negative view of our eccentricities into celebrations of what we have to offer the world."
Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, was respected for acknowledging and honouring the individual soul path of each person he encountered. This ‘DNA’ has permeated into the way we approach all people – with a sense of wonder and curiosity, honouring the uniqueness of our gifts as well as our pathologies.
The art of psychosynthesis is to transform the often negative view of our eccentricities into celebrations of what we have to offer the world. We call this ‘bifocal vision’. Our ‘funny ways’ and ‘oddities’, if appreciated correctly, may tell us more about what is attempting to emerge in the world than our ‘normalities’. It is often a matter of perception, a vantage point. By shifting the vantage point, new energy may get released, and transformation can occur.
In the Oddballs workshop hosted by The Psychosynthesis Trust on the 26th and 27th of June, we intend to offer a space in which the nature of our individuality can be explored free from the judgements that others – and we ourselves – place upon our ‘differentness’.
No-one is at their best when burdened with shame or embarrassment, and this workshop provides an opportunity for us to lighten some of these, and instead recognise and develop those remarkable talents, gifts and qualities that often accompany that pervasive sense of ‘being an Oddball’. We therefore warmly invite anyone for whom these issues ring a bell to join us (virtually of course in these coronavirus days) to meet, share, listen and learn together and, we believe, emerge enriched. We look forward to seeing you.
Polly Plowman& Keith Silvester
Sign up here via our Eventbrite page.
Watch Keith and Polly discuss the idea behind the workshop and why they are excited about celebrating individuality.
READ MORE ON THIS TOPIC
"How to spot a true oddball" by Sally Holloway
Read the article in The Independent
"Neurodiversity: A Person, A Perspective, A Movement?"
The Art of Autism
"Eccentricity: Society's Secret Sauce: The Value of Being Eccentric" by Brett Sinclair