People are weird. All of them. You are weird. I am weird.
I believe in this so much that in my past I started a company with P.A.W. in its name. The fact is, it’s true, but not quite how you think.
The Webster’s Dictionary definition of “weird” is short, including “of strange or extraordinary character: odd, fantastic.” Odd is defined as “differing markedly from the usual, ordinary, or accepted” and “not regular, expected, or planned.” Fantastic is defined as “so extreme as to challenge belief.”
Taking a different look at weird, it’s easy to see where we have been wrong in our perspective of weird. From our individual position in the world, we are unique and extraordinary. No two of us has the same DNA, retina, fingerprints (although that is no longer 100 percent true, but very close). Even identical siblings have differences. Our experiences in life also make us very unique – our parents, our upbringing, our schooling, the education we’ve had, the influences on our lives, the jobs and career we’ve had, the books we’ve read, the movies and TV shows we have watched, the places we’ve been and seen, our taste preferences, our talents and skills, our idiosyncrasies – the list is long.
Given this uniqueness, each of us would have a different view of what is “ordinary” or “usual.” By that definition, everyone else on the planet is “weird.” Then there is culture, religion, politics – each of which establishes for us a set of behavioral standards that are “accepted” or “regular, expected, planned.” By that definition, everyone else on the planet is “weird.” Certainly, our own beliefs are a unique combination of who we are, our culture, our heritage, our gender, our age, and more. As we age, our beliefs and worldview tend to become narrower. This smaller comfort zone can be more easily challenged by outside forces – or just motivational speakers, it seems – where many more things are now “so extreme as to challenge belief” – that is, your personal beliefs. By that definition, everyone else on the planet is “weird.”
Now we’ve established this new perspective of “everyone else is weird,” why does it matter?
It matters because you are getting on my nerves. The truth is more likely to be that I am getting on your nerves far more than vice versa. It’s about getting along with your fellow humans. This world in which we live has become far more divided than it should be. There are more conspiracies being promoted. There are more attacks on those with whom you disagree. Discourse is negative and bullying has become the norm. Science is attacked and misinformation is the order of the day. Today’s meme seems to be “if you don’t believe my opinion, then you are unworthy scum.” People are truly weird.
While the Internet and social media help spread disinformation and division, they are simply a tool. Human nature leads us to a desire to feel part of something – it’s our tribe instinct. In the past, we may not have reached too many people with similar beliefs. In our connected world, we can easily find people who are of like-minds and behavior. Together, we can wallow in our particular brand of weird how, where, when, and as long as we like.
From this modern tribal movement, we find missing pieces. Courtesy. Consideration. Respect. Critical thinking. Civil discourse. And from those, information and knowledge. We have at our fingertips access to so much information from all over the planet, cultures, languages, and tribes. Yet we avoid information that no longer fits into our narrowing worldview.
This manifests itself in so many interactions in our modern digital lives. When I interviewed a friend for an event, we discussed how our relationship had changed over time. It started online and was a little antagonistic. We met in person more than once and talked on the same subject matter, and our online discussion changed nature quite dramatically. We discovered that the difference was, in person, we could see into each other’s souls. You may think this is corny, and it may not be for you, but the nature of human in-person interaction is more intimate – where you can see body language, hear conversational tone, and see (into) each other’s eyes – and soul.
No, we won’t and can’t swap our online conversations with in-person interaction, and until the coronavirus pandemic has been conquered, any in-person interaction will be digital. From my experience, that in-person connection returns courtesy, consideration, and respect to our discourse. Critical thinking becomes part of the relationship – obviously when the appropriate listening skills are engaged.
Some people have re-discovered other ways to connect with one’s fellow humans. My friend, Jennifer Richmond, presented a TEDx talk about exchanging letters. You can watch it at this link. Jennifer also provides a service where you can request a pen pal and add another unexpected connection to your life. Doing something like this, however, requires activity.
One of my signature keynote sessions is about living an extraordinary life. In summary, the main steps needed are:
- Be aware
- Take action
- Have passion
- Be curious
- Face your fears
Each of these requires some attention to the way you may be living your life, and more often than not, will force change upon you.
I have seen how even the prospect of change causes fear in humans. In the IT world, there are so many who stick to what they know and what makes them feel like a genius – a genius in a bottle, nonetheless, but a genius.
One recent exchange became antagonistic when the young, passionate, smart developer proposed using modern tools, modern techniques, and a more agile architecture for modern development. One commenter started to proclaim loudly that you could do all of that using the old (familiar and comfortable – to him) tools. It was clear that the prospect of change elicited a fear that they needed to push back against. Then, the conversation became personal, making claims that were strawman logical fallacy arguments (reference: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/strawman) to attack the offered approach. Weird. Yet, somehow, quite expected.
Many exchanges become antagonistic when beliefs are challenged, and comfort zones are nudged. I have discovered a pattern of behavior that is consistent in these circumstances. First, argue that your point is valid, regardless of any evidence presented to the contrary. Second, begin the ad hominem attacks (reference: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem). Third, block the offending party. Weird. But now, totally expected.
My LinkedIn profile offers my new tagline of Storyteller | Instigator | Agitator. It annoys those who disagree with (my) truth and they’ll tend to respond with an attack on my tagline. Of course, the irony of that is lost on them, but it does not matter much, and even less after I’ve been blocked.
The fascinating part of this weirdness is that by blocking me, they no longer have to hear my weirdness anymore. It seems that if you hide from it, it does not exist. You can continue narrowing your comfort zone by keeping out the intruders.
I do understand the fact that my truth is not necessarily the actual truth. But in social media dialog, I attempt to research and uncover facts and the actual truth. Certainly, the way I present it will be skewed towards my bias and worldview. However, with civil discourse and critical thinking, we could come to some agreement – even if it is a mutually respectful agreement to disagree.
Why all this weirdness? I believe it has two primary causes – fear and self.
Weird people (all of those who are not us), when challenged and face the prospect of change, become fearful. This fear is such a strong emotion, all rational thought and critical thinking escape us, and we are left with reaction. Mostly, that reaction is to push back and attack from what is often an indefensible position. Using logical fallacy and the power of digital disconnect, being forced to address that change can be alleviated – at least for the moment. For some people, the rest of their lives will be spent hiding from every nudge to their comfort zone. While this may be suitable for them, the quality of life is compromised. They are weird. Although, an alternate position may suggest they are happy in their ignorance and I am weird. Of course, they are right.
A simple example of this situation is the word ignorance. People absolutely despise being called stupid to their face. I find it represents the ignorance of the name-caller, and I often respond with something like “being the king/queen of stupid, I appreciate you recognizing me.” FWIW, it’s funny to people watching, but rarely to the name-caller. I use the word “ignorance” a lot, because I see it in many places – I consider myself ignorant of much. Being curious, being aware, and being passionate, I work to cure my ignorance with information that may become knowledge. So many debates online are replete with ignorance, and when I point it out, it immediately becomes the word “ignorant,” then “ignorant person,” then “stupid.” It took me a while to realize that if I call you ignorant, and you think I called you stupid, you are.
What is it about “stupid” that causes so much angst? It challenges our ego. It suggests we are beneath the accuser. It stirs our fears of not being worthy. As with being called “stupid,” any time someone challenges or attacks, I now consider it an opportunity to learn, to understand, and to face my fears.
Self is the other primary cause of weirdness. Our world can only be seen from our unique perspective. Everything has to be measured with our senses by what we already have experienced in our lives. With everything being filtered through self, we understandably are extremely self-centered. It’s our defense mechanism to understand the world. It’s our tool to provide our ego with any needed strength and courage to get through every day. It’s important.
The issue with self is when it becomes selfish. The me-me-me-me approach is understandable, but leaves no room for compromise, courtesy, respect, or civil discourse. In the online world, it is much easier to engage in this behavior, because that intimacy of human connection is missing.
I feel we need to look at “self” in another way. In one of my sessions, I teach that childish is different than child-like. The former is lacking in responsibility and represented by misbehavior. The latter invokes wonder, curiosity, and passion for life and play. In the same way that child-like is not childish, we need self-like. We must be comfortable with who we are, what we have become, and where we are headed. The more we accept ourselves as the sum of all our experiences, we begin to find that we truly like ourselves, no matter the brand or style of our weirdness. We can now engage in self-like over selfishness.
If I could just go back to those people who had found a reason to digitally disconnect with me, I’d ask them these things. Nah… I’m ok with them being that kind of weird. I’ve already nudged their comfort zones. Most definitely, they’ve impacted mine.
I’m just offering this to everyone:
- Stop being selfish
- Engage in self-like
- You are weird
- You are extraordinary