Celebrate Your Variance

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Some people want only to look at the average.  They construct theories to explain why we are the way average people are, refusing to recognize that most of us aren’t that way at all.  They hand down rules defining how we should live, but their ways don’t work for many of us.

I call these rule makers “people of the mean” (mean people).  Mean people run this world, but variance people make it rock. If you find yourself not fitting in with other people’s rules, give yourself a hug. You are valuable and necessary for society’s survival.

Sadly, the people who cannot tolerate difference (the “pathologically normal”) tend to have power over the rest of us. They think they know how people are supposed to be and act, and they try to enforce their views. They try to suppress the variant people, but among the variants, we find the artists, the change agents, the thinkers, the sexually adventurous, the loonies, all the people who give life some entertainment value.

Variety not only makes life interesting; it makes life possible.  Consider sheep, the poster mammals for creatures who all act the same.  Only they don’t.  They  flock together, sure, but some to a much greater degree than others.  Some want desperately to stay mid-flock, surrounded by their woolly friends.  Others wander on the edge.

The more adventurous sheep eat better, finding clumps of grass the others miss.  On the downside, they are the first ones a mountain lion will target.  But it takes all kinds of sheep to make a flock.  If they all crowded together, no one would get enough food. They need some who go their own way to find better pasture for the whole group.

Woolly Individualists

On the other extreme, if they all explored, the flock would disintegrate and individual members would be picked off. They need a core of conformists to allow the adventurers to wander. The group as a whole does better because of variance among its members.

Human society is much richer and requires far greater diversity than sheep society. Variance is necessary for group survival. “All the same” works if everything stays the same.  But when conditions change, you better have some variety.  You better be ready to change, too.  A single disease can wipe out a population, if no members are resistant to it.

So consider this.  The work you do and the ways you fit in are important, but in times of change, your variance, your weirdness may be the most valuable thing about you.  The more different kinds of people in a population, the more different physical and emotional types, genes, skills, interests, cultures, and knowledge, the more a society can thrive as conditions change.

Now is a time when tremendous change is needed.  Change will have to be radical; it will have to be creative, and it will have to happen fast. This is the time for the high-variance people: the artists, the revolutionaries, the dreamers, and the deep thinkers. If you are one of those people, step up! Don’t waste a minute trying to fit in. Don’t worry if your gifts will get you paid, or who is listening, or whether the people of the mean want to put you in jail.  Fitting in at this point would be fatal. Be your variant self. The world will thank you for it.

If you’re more of a mid-flock person, there’s a place for you, too. It’s your job to gently move the herd toward the better pastures the variance people find.  Use your love to help people change. Support the innovators and protect them from those who fear change.  Perhaps if everyone becomes their true selves, we can still survive this time of crisis.

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2 Responses to Celebrate Your Variance

  1. Burt Feuerstein says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for the thoughts. You might also consider multiple modes that underlie multiple populations. And how those different populations work together to solve problems.
    Hope to see you soon!


  2. Laurie says:

    Thanks for this, David. It’s very comforting to be reminded that it’s valuable to be different and adventurous.

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