Wednesday, April 6, 2011


"Are you bipolar?"
"I'm bi-winning" - Charlie Sheen, interview not too long ago (

"I reject your reality and substitute my own!" - Adam Savage, Mythbusters (originally Paul Bradford, The Dungeonmaster)

Just how far off kilter can you go before you're perceived as just plain weird? And if someone calls you that, does it truly mean they think you're weird, is it just a defense mechanism, or are they poking fun at your difference?

History is populated by men that made bold moves, received inordinate amounts of criticism for it, and were later vindicated. William H. Seward, Andrew Johnson's secretary of state, decided that a big patch of tundra to the west of Canada would be a good place to own. Now it produces 14% of our domestic oil (1). Christopher Columbus thought it would be a good idea to sail off the edge of the world to find a quicker way to India, Galileo had this crazy idea that the Earth, where the master of the universe had chosen us to live, was not the center of the universe.

Naturally these are the men that made progress in a substantial way, and I'm glazing over the millions of whackjobs that have lived on Earth since then, but these are the remarkable ones. Just like we don't want to watch a movie where the protagonist kills the first four bad guys and gets offed about fifteen minutes into the story, or the (slightly more realistic version of the) love story where the man speeds to the airport to catch his girl, meets her at the gate, professes his love for her, and she says "Oh. Thanks. I've... uhhh... gotta go right now." We aren't interested in the ordinary. Just like Tim Allen's client in Big Trouble says, "I don't want ugly. I can get ugly for free."

Owen Cook, founder of the company Real Social Dynamics, said that the difference between awkward and quirky is a matter of self-esteem. One can be different (to an extent, of course), but so long as it's genuinely self-amusing behavior and the person isn't rattled by criticism, it's OK. Case in point: Shawn Spencer from Psych. He and Gus are utterly out of place in a police station. But he's at least tolerated because he forges on pretty well after those moments of confused silence.

We look at people like Shawn when they hit a dry point in the conversation or have an tense, confused moment. If they react awkwardly, it confirms our suspicion. If they move along like nothing is wrong we carry on as normal. People learn socially. Just like when two year old that bonks its head on the wall it looks at the mom and dad to see their reaction. It's almost like the kid is thinking, "Hey, I just hit my head. It kinda hurts. Is this bad?" When the parents have the mortified stare, mouth gaping open, the kid thinks "Yup. It's bad. Ow, it's really bad. Gee, this really hurts." And cue the waterworks.

Perhaps there are some universal behaviors that can be awkward no matter what. And maybe there are some people who can act normal no matter what. But it does seem that the difference between quirky and funny versus awkward and just plain weird is the ability for strange looks, glowering stares, raised eyebrows, and the occasional awkward turtle to deflect off your skin.

So, moral of the story. Go out there. Be quirky. Have fun. Don't give a $h!t what people think or do in reaction if they disagree with your point of view. Because I can tell you that I appreciate those people much more. And I'd rather be around people who live by their own rules than the rules someone else made.


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