A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.
– Nikos Kazantzakis, writer (1883-1957)
When I was a child there were sane people, of which I and everyone I was allowed to meet were a part, insane people who remained in institutions (insane asylums) so that they didn’t do anything that others might object to, and a nebulous category of people who spent time in “mental hospitals” but were allowed to visit their relatives for short periods at home.
No one explained how that last category worked or why only the odd person we knew was in that group.
Almost everyone I knew was “sane.” We carried on our lives as if everyone was sane. We pretended that the “others” didn’t exist, except when they came to visit.
The discrepancy in my mind arose when I could understand the insane people who came to visit better than I could the supposedly sane people I knew. The fact that no one subsequently found the need to have me locked up is my sole concrete evidence that I belong in the world of the sane.
What and who can we deem truly sane any more? I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for my freedom. I am less than grateful for the freedom of many people I have had the misfortune to meet, as well as many I have only had the pleasure of seeing in action from a distance.
The Ontario Provincial Police estimate that at any time of any day there will be between one and three people driving while legally drunk on the 40 km stretch of highway that passes near our home. Considering that it’s a lonely chunk of road on which maybe only 50 cars at most would be driving at the busiest time (usually fewer than 20), that’s a big number of accidents waiting to happen. That’s all day, every day.
In our rural municipality we have no trash pickup. Spend ten minutes at our dump and you are bound to see at least one person who throws trash in the recycling or recyclable materials in with the trash. Within 15 minutes you will hear someone ask the attendant whether magazines go in with the paper and whether cardboard can be recycled (everyone can see four huge bins labelled CARDBOARD on entering the yard). The same people ask the same inane questions almost every time they visit the dump. That’s inane, we haven’t reached the stage of adding the “s” yet.
The absolute silliest people to visit the dump are those who come in $50,000 (and up) SUVs. They have important jobs in the city (Toronto) but they can’t figure out on their own that metal stuff goes with metal stuff, paper with paper and trash where the bears have gathered.
Once a week we buy groceries and other supplies. Apparently Tuesday, our normal shopping day, is “stupid day.” The college and university students are a joy to behold. You can see them learning the ropes of healthy shopping as they trip around the store. They, however, are the exceptions.
Older adults act as if there is no one else in the store. They stop their carts in the middle of the aisle, sometimes even turning them so no one else could possibly pass them, then traipse off to gaze at a shelf for some item they have been considering buying for the past several weeks. Being polite Canadians, we seldom ask the offending twit to move her cart, preferring instead to stand and wait until she moves on without prompting.
We can always see people buying lottery tickets. It thrills them to pieces when they win $2 or (heavens!) $10,000. It never occurs to them that they spent $20,000 to win that $10,000. Few, it seems, keep count of what they spend to win.
These examples may be seen by anyone in any community in the world, I would guess. Stupidity is a characteristic unique to humans. In other species, the stupid ones become lunch.
I am convinced that we use the word stupid to describe those whose behaviour outside of psychiatric hospitals strongly resembles that of the hospital inmates who aren’t allowed out on their own. What does sanity mean after all?One school of thought in psychiatry holds that no one is truly insane, that those we call insane have simply chosen to create fantasy lives for themselves that are distinctly different from the fantasy lives that those of us on the outside find too “different.” Different from the norms that have been established for us by the industries of our culture.
Insane people don’t usually wear makeup. Insane people don’t dress fashionably. Insane people don’t believe that money is the most important thing in their lives. They love to be touched and to have conversations, but they aren’t tolerant of others who talk about themselves and won’t let them tell their own stories. The rest of us accept that sane people talking about themselves without giving others a chance to have their share of air time is just a fact of life we have to put up with.
Insane people don’t worry about the things that sane people do. They have different priorities about what’s important. Their fears may be stronger than those of “normal people.” That may be a sham because sane people seldom admit their fears.
Insane people, when they get frustrated, retreat into a fantasy world that others can’t understand. Sane people simply blame others around them for what’s wrong and focus on dishing out the guilt, either silently or aloud. Sane people seldom blame themselves for anything. Divorce, for example, is a legal separation of two people who are innocent while the other is “guilty as hell.”
We in the “sane” world accept that people who do totally foolish things, who treat others in almost inhumane fashion, who would steal from their own mothers and sell their grandmothers if they could, who believe in the most outrageous things that they couldn’t support with evidence, are sane.
Insane people won’t do that. If something is wrong, they insist on telling others that it’s wrong. For heaven’s sake! Sane people don’t do that. We leave the responsibility for dealing with such things to our governments.
After all, governments don’t really represent anybody, so they should certainly be in charge of managing problems we can’t deal with ourselves.
It’s the only sane thing to do.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how sane people can easily and cheaply manage personal and community problems that governments have no idea or ability with.
Learn more at http://billallin.com