Eccentricity: Are You a Greyhound or a Pekingese?
Guest Writer: Brian Githaiga; Kenya
"Eccentricity has always abounded when and where the strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time." - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
Do you have unusual eating and sleeping habits? Do you have a predilection for solitude? Are you particularly curious, creative and possess above average intelligence? Do you not care what others think about these things and have a rather dark sense of humor? Not much interested in material success and shun competitiveness for its own sake? And did you know as a child that you were completely different from other kids? If you answered yes to all these questions, you might be eccentric.
Who is eccentric?
The eccentric is predominantly associated with nonconformity or quirkiness. In psychology a pretty simple criterion is usually adopted: the deviation from accepted standards or norms: they are the square pegs in round holes.
Life with eccentrics can be fascinating. Their intelligence and creativity amaze ordinary people again and again. Equally, dealing with them can also wear down many people because oddballs are often unwilling to move away from their established plans and ideas.
At first glance indeed, many virtues and ideas of eccentrics seem completely redundant and socially unfeasible. When for example in 2014 after undergoing a period of intense burnout in a job that I dreaded I decided to quit and move to the countryside, so I could "live deliberately" as Thoreau has advised in Walden, my friends and parents thought I was crazy. Two years (and a lot of personal growth) later I had the draft to my first literary work: the short story collection Flowerless Judas and other stories. Let’s just put it this way: it is precisely these virtues and ideas that may give the impetus to new inventions and developments. The religious founders Jesus Christ and Buddha are considered eccentrics.
And science too owes a lot to eccentric thinking: perhaps Alexander Graham Bell would never have invented the phone if he had not had the obsession of trying to speak to his dog. Maybe the absolute will to freedom of the inventor and founding father of the US, Benjamin Franklin, is based on his passion for moving around in the nude.
Eccentricity is certainly not attention seeking and not a mental disorder. In the simplest terms, it is a long-established attachment to an object or behavior. What causes it, which synapses or brain parts are responsible, is still unclear. Admittedly, eccentrics do not always find it easy to be accepted, but, without a doubt, we thoroughly enjoy our unusual abilities. Perhaps British eccentric chronicler and poet Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) puts it best: "If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?"
Embrace your eccentricities
There is no doubt that some people seek eccentricity for its own sake at all costs, in order to distinguish themselves from the masses, true eccentricity should arise naturally and involuntarily, reducing everything to mere appearance. The true eccentrics are so because they find logic, an aesthetic ideal or practicality in something that others do not see. For example, physicist and eccentric-in-chief Albert Einstein had dozens of perfectly identical clothes, so as not to have to waste time in the morning having to decide what to wear, not caring tuppence that people would think that he never changed clothes. There is something to learn from this. Personally, I usually don’t even realize that I’m being eccentric in the way I dress or speak; it is always my friends who are pointing it out. An eccentric’s behavior should seem natural to them but not necessarily to others, and even if he is aware that his actions appear to be outside the norm, this seems trivial to him. Being eccentric for the sake of it is wrong; it is denying who you really are, and If you cannot embrace your true self, people will not take any of your ideas or projects seriously. Granted, knowing one's true self is an extremely hard thing to do, at least going with Benjamin Franklin’s observation in his Poor Richard's Almanack: "There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one's self." This notwithstanding, pretend you're sure of yourself until you do. Even paying more attention to your hygiene, dressing a little better and walking tall are actions that can boost your self-confidence. To be eccentric and happy doing while at the same time be outgoing, you have to be a self-confident person. As self-esteem comes from within, you can make a concentrated effort to love yourself and the things you do and to be satisfied with yourself inside and out. Don't hide your quirks; be proud of the things that make you unique. Whatever you do that moves away at least a little from the path everyone is taking, take it in your hands and cultivate it.
Eccentrics play a very active role in building their personality and their lives by continually working to expand their limits and affirming the right to be what they are and want to be. They can influence other people because they tend to be headstrong. Also, their life is full of meaning (especially to themselves) because they manage to draw freely and fully from the resources of their vivid imagination, and they do not need to conform to the status quo nor get the approval of the community.
They can defend themselves by isolating themselves, especially in an intellectual manner, but they do not live by illusions and do not deny any unpleasant aspect of their life. They simply refuse to violate their ideals and do not allow their self-expression to be hindered. Eccentricity is essential in society because it allows society to have within it a variety suitable to successfully adapt to the changes taking place within it. To echo the psychiatrist David Weeks, eccentrics are a refreshing reminder of everyone's intrinsic uniqueness.
About Brian Githaiga:
The author is a Forensic Science student at Kenyatta University in Kenya. He also has a literary bent and writes prose compulsively but is attempting poetry. He is currently working on a collection of short stories exploring mental health and has a piece forthcoming in Hot Metal Bridge journal. In 2018 he attended a workshop curated by Kwani.