It has long been my observation that I see things about people and their interactions that they themselves are not commonly aware of. I do not mean this to be condescending. I see the world from my own perspective which I have come to believe is fundamentally different from most people around me. I do not know this for a fact. I don’t claim to read minds. However, the facts are that much of what people commonly do strikes me as confusing, illogical, and foolish, while much of what I do strikes others as confusing, illogical, and foolish. Given this discrepancy, it is reasonable to conclude that I must be seeing a vastly different world than others.
But what exactly do I mean? Some things are obvious to everyone, colors, shapes, sounds, what have you. Other things we must examine much closer in order to understand. A professional conductor can hear when an instrument in the orchestra is out of tune. A mechanic can learn all sorts of things just from the sound of a car’s engine. We probably listen to the music or the car and hear nothing but music, or a car. Still, there are other things that are completely beyond us. It requires extremely close examination, even to the point of dissection, to tell apart the genders of some species of animal. Nevertheless, the animals themselves have no difficulty making this important distinction. The important thing to remember is that the actual information changes depending upon who or what does the observing. Observation depends as much upon the observer as the thing being observed.
So, when I say I see things differently, I really mean that my point of observation, or more simply point of view, is sufficiently different from others that the information is radically different. If I could describe this point of view in a single word, the word would be ‘outsider’. Everyone is an outsider sometimes. Whether you’re with an unfamiliar group or you’re visiting a foreign country or a big city where you’re a tourist in unfamiliar territory, there’s a feeling of being out of one’s element and not knowing exactly what to do or say. For most individuals, these experiences may be the only times in life where one feels like an outsider, but not for me. There’s some part of me that’s always the outsider, all the time, even among family or close friends. I think there must be some herd instinct that by some quirk of genetics, I lack, because I’ve never felt the urge to integrate myself into ‘society’ or ‘culture’ or whatever you may call it. I tend to watch and evaluate situations without participating much of the time. I’ve little doubt this is in part due to the fact that I tire less quickly when I listen more and talk less, but there’s always the element of feeling like I’m a cat in a room full of dogs, or an engineer in a room full of accountants, or an accountant in an NFL locker room, or w/e other analogy you prefer.
I should clarify that I usually don’t feel threatened or anxious. I can say that with confidence because I have experienced both those feelings with social experiences, and those feelings are much more pressing and immediate. I still have them occasionally when I’m caught in a situation where I don’t know what to do or how to get out of, but these are thankfully very rare at this point. The ‘outsider’ feelings are more general and not really positive or negative. I just feel different, not better and not worse. Just different.
The outsider perspective, as I have come to call it, must look very different from the insider perspective. From outside, you can see a lot of things that you can’t see from inside. I have no doubt the reverse is also true. Many of the things people do in order to ‘fit in’ or ‘get along’ are, to me, utterly pointless and wasteful exercises. Moreover they don’t seem to actually accomplish much in the way of identifying or grouping people in a meaningful way. The social identifications like ‘country’, ‘southern’, ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘protestant’, ‘hippy’, ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘evangelical’,’preppy’, ‘jock’, ‘stoner’, etc. are, from my perspective, somewhat arbitrary and random. I know what they are, but other than a few obvious vague generalities, they generally don’t group people in any way that seems more meaningful than simple geography. I could take a bunch of cars and group them together by style of hubcap, but that wouldn’t be particularly useful. I could organize books in a library by going alphabetically using the first sentence of the second chapter, but again, it’s not anymore helpful than just throwing them haphazardly onto the shelves based on no order at all. To put it simply, what seems to be one of the fundamentally important parts of human behavior and the human experience, group identification, from my perspective, looks rather like an exercise in the absurd.
I do make generalizations and group people together. I just do it in such a way that it actually helps me understand them better and more importantly, to interact with them as individuals. It just doesn’t match most of what the people themselves would self identify as, and probably wouldn’t make any sense to them. Indeed much of what I do probably makes no sense at all to others, and so we have come full circle, as I’m once again stating how strange I appear to others, and how strange the ‘normal’ people appear to me. There are many other things that I am able to see from my ‘outsider’ perspective. You’ll probably find a lot of them in this blog. I’ll probably never understand what it is that compels most people to seek out others of their kind and join into various confusing and interlocking societies with them. I only understand that whatever it is, I don’t have it, and was most likely born without it. I have come to accept that there are a lot of things I’ll never understand as normal people do, and that’s OK. We’re all unique in different ways. This is just my own peculiarity. It is, after all, in comparing our perspectives that we are able to derive greater knowledge and wisdom.