Olga Khazan grew up in the USA and has Russian-Jewish roots. From childhood she stood out against other children, but it is not always a bad thing. In his article in the edition of the Atlantic Olga told why being weird is not so bad for life.
Hereinafter in the first person.
In most cases, the child was quite strange. I’m an immigrant Russian-Jewish origin, grew up in Midland (TX), in a region whose biggest claim to fame is once the former home of President George Bush. At preschool age I have had problems due to the fact that I didn’t pray before eating and I didn’t know that it’s for the super bowl, everyone was talking about. I felt hopelessly different from everyone in our city.
Even after we moved to a suburb of Dallas (TX), I’ve never met another Russian immigrant like me. I went on the bus alone. I spent almost every evening alone. I started to talk with him — a habit that, unfortunately, survived. One day someone obkidali our house with toilet paper, and I had to explain to my parents that American children do so with the losers. Undeterred, my dad willingly raked up toilet paper in a trash bag and put it in the bathroom for future use. “Free toilet paper!” — happily he said over dinner.
All I wanted was to be normal. I wanted to be as American as my classmates. I wanted normal back to when I was telling something to people, they didn’t ask all the time: “Why?”. But over time I realized what it means to be different from others. In fact, sociological research shows that being eccentric or socially rejected can become very creative.
Sharon Kim, who teaches in the business school at the Johns Hopkins University, told me that he always noticed that some people associate their success with the fact that they are loners or rebels. Kim wondered whether socially excluded more creative, so she decided to test the theory, inviting a few volunteers to the laboratory to perform a couple of exercises.
Kim asked participants to perform a couple of exercises on paper. One of them asked them to identify what unites a number of seemingly unrelated words (e.g., fish, mine, and snatch). In another they were asked to draw an alien from a planet very different from ours.
Those who did not accept society as it turned out, was better at both exercises. For the alien task normal participants drew the standard, cartoonish Martians. But the renegades of society drew aliens that looked completely different — all their limbs sticking out on one side of body or eyes under the nose. Drawings the rogue was more creative, according to three independent judges.
So the oddity and creativity were connected, decided Kim. But with a caveat. The advantage was seen only among participants who had an “independent self” — this means that they have realized that they don’t like it and wasn’t ashamed of it. It seemed that there’s something about that freak, can open your mind and allow you to generate new original ideas.
For many, this effect begins in childhood. When Arnold M. Ludwig adjunct Professor of psychiatry at brown University, explored the lives of more than 1,000 prominent people, including Frida Kahlo, Jean-Paul Sartre and John Lennon, for his book “the Price of greatness”, he found that creative types such as artists and writers are more likely than, say, businessmen, considered “strange” in my childhood, and more often than government officials or soldiers were considered “other” as adults.
In his study of architects in 1962, the psychologist Donald MacKinnon also found that the more creative family of architects traveled a lot when were kids that, apparently, “often led to some alienation of the family from the nearest neighbors.” Not surprisingly, many of the more creative architects said they felt isolated from society as children.
Unusual childhood is not the only thing that can make you more creative. What you consider “strange” in your culture, can also increase creativity, which is called “integrative complexity”. People who are strong in integrative complexity, as a rule, do well with uncertainty and succeed in reconciling contradictory information. They can often see problems from different points of view.
Chris crandall, a psychology Professor at the University of Kansas, told me that the people who are on the fringes of society, tend freer to innovate and to change social norms. “Fashion rules come from the bottom up,” he said. Outsiders are less concerned about what is thought of them the crowd, so they have more opportunities for experimentation.
In fact, people who do not fit into a certain group, again and again find that they are able to think outside the box. Foreigners often find it strange, but to feel at ease, has its psychological benefits. Children who speak more than one language — perhaps because, like me, they grew up in a country far removed from the one where they were born, — better understand the point of view of an adult and may in the future become better communicators.
In one experiment, people who lived abroad, was particularly good in finding the hidden solutions to verbal and conceptual problems. This may help to explain why Pablo Picasso began experimenting with cubism in Paris, and George Frideric Handel composed his Messiah, living in England.
Fortunately for those who have never lived abroad, this increase in creativity can also happen to people who live in an unusual mood, and not in exotic places. In a small study Rodica Damian, associate Professor in the Department of psychology at the University of Houston, and her colleagues have forced College students to participate in the exercise in virtual reality, where the laws of physics did not apply. Compared to the other group, which performed an exercise in which the laws of physics functioned normally, those who participated in the first experiment, were able to come up with more creative answers to the question “What makes sound?”.
From Damian have a theory that she explores with all sorts of unusual experiences can enhance creativity. For example, people often report breakthroughs after the magic of travel or extreme adventures. “The idea is that once you’ve experienced things, which violate the rules, regulations and expectations, you will become more open, told me Damian. — You understand that the world should not work according to your rules so you can break the rules”.
Of course, many strange things not always good. If you do something too drastic, a simple treatment that can consume all your mental faculties. For example, it is strange that the grizzly bear is invading your yard and destroying your car. But instead of to catch the creative wave that you’re likely to call your insurance company.
In any case, try to think about his strangeness in a positive way — a process called cognitive reappraisal abilities — can help you to cope with troubles which often arise from the fact that you stand out. Rethinking what makes you weird as what gives you power, that could, ultimately, make you happier.
Unusual perspectives can also improve the ability of decision-making within the larger group of which you are. The famous experiments of Solomon Asch in the 1950-ies showed the random absurdity of conformity. When participants were asked to match a line with one of the other three lines (two of which were clearly of different sizes), the participants chose the incorrect option about a third of cases, when other members of the group, working with the researcher, gave the wrong answer.
The experiment has become a classic example of how readily people follow the crowd. When later one of the participants asked why he acted, he said he is concerned that it is considered “strange”. That is, he didn’t want to be seen as strange.
But less known is the variant experiment, in which Al introduced another variable, this time one of the associates gave the correct answer, while the rest of the crowd tried to enter the party astray. The presence of only one person who went against the majority reduced conformity of responses approximately 80 percent. Perhaps the participants felt that they and dissenter, at least, can be strange together. Interestingly, they were less likely to obey, even if the dissent did not agree with the crowd, but was still wrong. It seems that dissent gave participants consent to disagree.
The liberating effect of dissenting points of view have been reproduced in other studies, and it emphasizes the value of having multiple people around. According to research, the views of the minority are so strong that people are more inclined to carefully study them.
When we hear a dissenting opinion, we are more critical of what they say, what motivates the various sides of the problem. Meanwhile, the majority encourages us to think only about the data that support the view of the majority. According to Charlan Nemeth and Jack Goncalo’s book, “Rebels in groups”: “Minorities stimulate more originality, and most of the more conventions of thinking.”
Unfortunately, however, when people cease to be “weird”, these benefits disappear. When people who were once in the minority, become the majority, studies show that they tend to become more closed. The weirdness has its advantages, but nothing is strange forever.