The Problem with Originality

The problem with being original and displaying a great deal of originality is that conventional people despise it.  If you fly your freak flag proudly, you very soon discover that people have circled around you and are shouting, “Freak!  Freak!” but that’s about all.

Rather than allowing you to harmoniously co-exist with them, conventional people regard original artists and thinkers as a threat.  They cause discomfort.  They force them to re-examine themselves and their beliefs.  They make them face things they would rather not face.  For that reason, it is more comfortable for them to turn away, shun and ignore the original people and hope they stop or leave.

If they persist in their originality, self-appointed straighteners and correctors will apply whatever violence is available to them, whether that is through public shaming, character assassination, financial pressure or the force of state sponsored law, to demand that the original become more conventional, or at least a passable semblance of somebody conventional.  We don’t want the outstanding and the different around these parts, Mister.

I find it disconcerting that some of the most original and outspoken people of our time are only accepted, in society, because there is some other aspect of their persona that is conventional.  They might speak about anarchy and overturning the political, economic and monetary systems of the world, buy hey, they’re respected academics in another field, so let’s cling to that as proof of their acceptability and sanity, while simultaneously rejecting every other one of their pronouncements as the unfortunate, out-of-character ravings of a lunatic mind.

If your original way of being allows you to see things as they really are, with clarity and insight and if you then try to convey these truths, as eloquently as you can, so that change commences, you will be branded as obsessively negative, accused of bringing everybody down and roundly ignored.  Far from thanking you for seeing through the fog of human bamboozlement, bigotry, intolerance and sheer stupidity, people will condemn you for dwelling on things they would prefer to forget.  Nothing will change.  They’ll all go back to sleep, but with a watchful, wary, half-open eye trained on you forever, from that time onward.

When you are original, you spend an inordinate amount of very lonely time being the only one that has faith in the original work or idea that you represent.  The only one.  It’s hard to keep toiling over something that only you can appreciate, especially if that toil involves work that others consider to be too much trouble to take and more trouble than it’s worth.  If you’re the only one that can see the intrinsic value, does it even exist?  Harder still, if the audience is ignorantly throwing rocks at your beautiful creation.

If you’re the only person around, attempting to do something that nobody has ever done before, many people will conclude that this is because doing so is wrong.  They will think there is something wrong with you, for trying to do it.  If you hold a set of ideas that nobody accepts even a fraction of, does it mean all your ideas are wrong, or is it more likely that some of them, though not conventionally accepted, are actually right?

There is no fraternity or union you can join, to seek solace and solidarity, because even other originals perceive your brand of originality to be an aberration.  You’re destined to remain in obscurity, underappreciated and unrecognised, for want of anybody that “gets” what you’re doing or what you’re thinking.  You might never find anybody that genuinely cares about you, what you think or what you create.  It is far harder to find anybody willing to pay you for it.  It’s very alienating.

You can keep ploughing the lonely field in the hope that the original work will speak for itself, or you can try harder to bring your originality to the attention of others, you can argue until you’re blue in the face against your doubters and detractors, you can attempt to find something that is conventional enough about what you’re doing to attract conventional support, but there are no guarantees.  Doing something original guarantees you nothing.  Perhaps the only certainty is being the recipient of an undue amount of heartache and pain, but little else.

For the lucky few, a day comes when slowly, by degrees, the ideas and original works they fostered, fought for and nurtured, in destitute obscurity, become more widely embraced and accepted.  Suddenly, there is a transformation from no-hoper, deadbeat dropout and danger to polite society to wise sage and beloved leader.  They turn from being regarded as a deranged lunatic to being a way seer for all of humanity, almost overnight.  How does that even happen?  The scars never fade, though.

If you are cursed with originality, what can you do?  You can spend your life in denial of it and arrange your outward facing persona so that it impersonates somebody conventional.  You can try to fit in, while retaining some vestiges of your originality, but never give it free reign or display it, where it might cause offence.  You can give up entirely.  There is a feeling you never lose that you don’t quite belong and don’t have a way of fitting in.

In trying to fit in and look conventional, you can cause yourself so much internal turmoil and frustration, feeling that you have lost your integrity and betrayed your inner essence, that living that way becomes intolerable, or takes a terrible toll on your health.  You feel that you cannot find your place, in the world, where you can just be who you are and remain unmolested by those that wish you weren’t as you happen to be.

It’s not a very nice existence.  Being different, or out of step with the zeitgeist, is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable ways of living conceivable.  Harbouring ideas that are so misaligned with orthodoxy puts you in danger of being found out and pilloried, or worse (torture and detention over thought crimes is still widely practiced, after all).  The mob rules.  If you aren’t aligned with the mob and what it thinks, the world begins to feel like a very dangerous and unwelcoming place, to you.  That’s because it is.

As a species, we’re rotten at accepting diversity and embracing originality.  Even the most original people are bad at it.  Will this ever change?  I doubt it.  People have too much fear inside and too much of a need to herd in the safety of numbers to ever allow a society to emerge where original thought and work is highly valued and prized.  Every now and then, one of the originals breaks through and becomes part of the conventional set of ideas and ways of seeing, as the conventional masses of people slightly expand their comfort zones to accommodate them, but it’s a rarity.

If you are original, there’s not very much you can do about it.  You’re stuck with it.  I’m sorry for you.  You have my deepest sympathies, because you will require inordinate courage, persistence and fortitude just to carry on with your everyday existence.  Nobody will sustain you.  You’re like the whole world’s orphan and nobody has a good word to say about your dear, long lost mother.  More than anything, you’ll be alone, even in the most crowded of places.

I hope you make it.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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