Are You Eccentric?

Being yourself. (image: Irish_Eyes)

Being yourself. (image: Irish_Eyes)

I met Betty years ago when I moved to a place teeming with all sorts of progressive people. Still, Betty stood out. She was a large lady dressed in layers of brightly colored clothes who walked with the help of a carved walking stick. Because her eyesight was so poor she often asked for help reading street signs. I was the lucky person she asked one day.

We hit it off immediately, riffing on words and laughing wryly about politics. But when I made a banal comment (probably about the weather or something equally trite) Betty wanted none of it. She asked why I bothered to say it. While I was busy thinking about her question she moved on to far more fascinating topics. Her honestly was more overt than the huge pendant dangling around her neck. I admired her for it. I was newly married at 18, attending college full time, plus working and volunteering. Sometimes I felt as if I were playacting in all these unfamiliar roles. Simply by example Betty made it clear that playacting didn’t cut it.

Until her last days Betty was a fascinating woman. She could talk knowledgeably about religion, politics, and literature as well as motorcycle racing and vintage cars. She read avidly even though her poor eyesight forced her to hold a book inches away from her face. Known in the area as a white witch, she cast spells for many notable people and organizations. (Her attempts on behalf of the Cleveland Indians to lift the Curse of Rocky Colavito weren’t one of her successes.) In the early 2000’s the city of Lakewood asked her to clean up what they considered an overgrown yard. When an inspector showed up she walked him through her herb gardens, explaining what each plant could cure. Perhaps she was never cited for those unruly gardens because she gave him a homemade insomnia remedy.

The truly eccentric people I know don’t try to stand out. They don’t affect certain behaviors, clothes, or interests in order to be seen as non-conformists. They do their best to live in a world of conventions while simply being themselves.

We live in a marvelous time, when we’re far freer to be who we are than perhaps in any other time in history. That’s great for us as individuals but also great for humanity, since eccentrics seem to play a larger role than others in advancing exploration, the arts, and sciences. Their differences stretch the possibilities for all of us.

In Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness,  psychiatrist David Weeks explains that eccentrics are physically healthier and significantly happier than “normal” people. He notes that eccentrics are wildly diverse yet share common characteristics. Here are his 25 descriptors of eccentricity, listed in descending order of importance. (Dr. Weeks says the first five are the most significant characteristics.)

  • Enduring non-conformity
  • Creativity
  • Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behavior
  • An enduring and distinct feeling of differentness from others
  • Idealism
  • Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
  • Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
  • Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
  • Non-competitive
  • Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
  • Unusual eating habits and living arrangements
  • Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view
  • Possessed of a mischievous sense of humor, charm, whimsy, and wit
  • More frequently an eldest or an only child
  • Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. (It should be noted that the family history method of estimating hereditary similarities and resemblances usually provides rather conservative estimates.)
  • Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings. There is a frequent use of the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualization.
  • Slightly abrasive
  • Midlife changes in career or lifestyle
  • Feelings of “invisibility” which means that they believe other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously
  • Feel that others can only take them in small doses
  • Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas. In some cases, this is well-founded.
  • Dislike small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation
  • A degree of social awkwardness
  • More likely to be single, separated, or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced
  • A poor speller, in relation to their above average general intellectual functioning

See yourself here? A family member or friend?

The documentary “A Different Drummer” highlights people more overtly unusual than Betty. In fact, Dr. Weeks claims only one in 10,000 people are truly eccentric. I suspect the number is much higher.

Sure, some eccentrics are more flamboyant than others but I think the Bettys of the world qualify. So does a toddler obsessed with vacuums who grew into a little boy driven to fix broken appliances and equipment he rescued from the trash. So does a girl so fascinated by forensics that she spent weeks sketching the decomposition of a muskrat and recently assembled an entire deer skeleton in the driveway. So do many of the interesting people around all of us. My family tree is well leafed out with eccentrics and my friends are orchards of eccentricity. Maybe I’m eccentric too. How about you?

are you eccentric?

What gorilla suit? (image:Greyerbaby)

46 thoughts on “Are You Eccentric?

  1. Life is much to short to talk about mundane things. I hate myself if I ever catch myself doing this (it’s usually around people who are more eccentric than me!).

    Really want to see ‘A Different Drummer’.

    18/25

    Liked by 2 people

    • I will say, however, sometimes mundane topics help establish a comfort zone and only then do the real topics emerge.

      I learned this years ago when I used to walk with a neighbor. Finding anyone who’d agree to walk a few miles every morning before dawn isn’t easy. I loved those walks, especially the rising sun streaked sky. My walking partner, however, droned on about the most boring topics. Shopping trips, her kitchen redesign, her children’s minor squabbles. I tried to find some depth in her conversation and still appreciate the walk, but the conversation seemed grueling. After a few months of this, she opened up. She talked about her spiritual search, her creative aspirations, and her struggle to love an abusive father who was now terminally ill. We’d made a strong enough connection for the real her to emerge.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my GOODNESS. We just had the initial assessment for our 10 year old daughter for the autism spectrum. This list describes my amazing kiddo…What a gift eccentric is! Thank you for this as we navigate supporting and embracing all of our child. So good.

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      • I think everyone is and remains unique – even identical twins who have an extremely close connection. I agree there’s social pressure to conform, but if you were to sit me down with the most completely ‘normal’ person you could identify, I feel confident that I’d find some aspects of their personality perfectly, delightfully eccentric.

        Society may tame aspects of our individuality – and, after all, it’s up to us how far we permit ourselves to be tamed – but I have great faith in the human spirit. Everyone has hidden complexity. If we could only tease more of it out – and celebrate our differences – life would be a lot richer. I can see that’s what you’re doing here – well done you!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. I think I have found my tribe, and I think I am raising a little eccentric! He has no qualms about inventing his own game, if he doesnt like what others are doing, and his imagination is a rich landscape informed by what he is reading, drawing, and learning. I think more people have this inside them, but they have been bullied into conformity by family, schools, and peers that dont understand where they are coming from.

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  4. I have been called eccentric more than a handful times, and I never really thought much about it, until I did. Sometimes the references were sort of out of nowhere (a coworker telling me about the character of Oskar in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud). Then I moved cross country, and felt painfully aware of how different other people seemed to think I was…(mostly because I moved from a friendly place, to a more conformist place). Suddenly, my friends were given me advice on what to wear (apparently I like too many patterns and colours at one time), and am too animated, and other little things. Like, I am very into robotics and also Open Source Projects and just learning (since I was little, I keep little learning ‘logs’ I called them…everywhere. I can’t help but make little notes and write more and more about new ideas.)

    One day, after a pretty awful day at work in my new city, I came home and cried for a long while. When listening to new music, I remembered that I wanted to learn more about Gerard de Nerval. I always liked people like Gerard de Nerval – people that would rescue lobsters and keep them as pets. I have never done that, but I understand the attraction. Anyway, I popped ”eccentricity” into the computer and read several articles…and basically every single thing applied (or, when I asked my family, they told me it applied). I never thought of myself as creative, but then I always thought that creative meant…akin to Leonardo da Vinci. I have never created a flying machine, for example, but I understand the draw. I have many hobbies – but I never understood how this was a ‘sign’ of anything, other than having many hobbies. When I asked my family, they said the way I speak is markedly different, my clothing choices seem different, and I am also non-competitive and ”live in my head.” On the plus side, I know I care about everyone and want everyone to be happy. 🙂 On the downside, apparently since I live too much in my head and tinker around too much with things, I am prone to getting into issues (like, in first year Uni, I lived essentially off coffee and chocolate for months and months, and then developed a bleeding stomach ulcer, more recently I have become interested in Soylent – a new product that saves time so you can work on your interests and spend less time eating).

    It’s hard to articulate why or how I don’t always fit in. Sometimes I try to blend in because my body reacts badly to gossip (my hands start shaking). People tell me I am too sensitive, and it’s only as I have grown out of adolescence and into adulthood that I realize that people seem to tolerate so-called differences for so long, but eventually they expect all adults to act in a way that is very narrow. And maybe I have studied enough how people behave, because sometimes I find I cannot blend in at all.

    At any rate, if I am an eccentric (a term I never would have assigned to myself, but which is recently being assigned to me more frequently) I would say that there is nothing wrong with eccentricity. As much as I am able, I know a couple of things – such as the fact that I have a soft spot for animals and would adopt them all, and I care about people too, and have many interests in many different areas (not just arts, not just sciences, but basically…everything interests me and sometimes this leads to fatigue). The hardest part of being seen or maybe actually being different to a degree that others call ”eccentric” isn’t in the difference, but the sometimes mean spirited ways people debase those that they see as different. When people gossip about others, my mouth goes cotton dry, and I start to become queasy and very upset. I think it’s not just bodily (fear based) but also emotionally a deep sadness at the rejection of just…people who are not exactly like everyone else, and it makes me terribly sad.

    Sorry to ramble! Thank you for writing about the topic.

    Like

    • Few people bring the fullness of themselves to life, or are able to keep that fullness alive. You do, Kat. Reading what you wrote made something in me feel more whole. And that’s just from your words! People may not always understand you but simply being who you are is enough to wake a few others as you pass through their lives.

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  5. That’s 12 out of 25 for me. I always had this feeling that I’m a bit eccentric (to put it mildly). As one of the points states, I don’t think you will take me seriously and hence giving out only a small dose of my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh woww… this article really helps me to understand myself. 20 out of 25 points has actually described me of being an eccentric person. I wanted to change myself for others who were good to me. But now i won’t change. Because if i change i will become a complete robot. Thank u so much for this beautiful article. Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is strange. A friend posted this on FB and when I started reading it seemed Betty was familiar, and then I realized it was the Betty I knew! My mom was friends with her and Dennis and I was always in awe when we went to visit, of her garden, of her stories, of Dennis’s wooden leg. They were such unusual, amazing people who made a huge impression on my early adolescent self.

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    • These small world moments are like a zing to the spirit aren’t they? I’m so glad Betty and Dennis were part of your life. I never knew Dennis well but Betty, like so many people in my life who have passed away, made a lasting impression on me. I still avoid small talk about the weather!

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  8. My father always said I was eccentric. I use to get angry at him when he would tell others. My daughter says I’m an enigma. I laughed at her until yesterday when she pointed out my many contradictory behaviors. I just had to read your article. OMG! That’s me! Every one of them. My great friends take me as I am with great tolerance. Those who walk away simply don’t understand me. I always knew I was different from everyone else. Called myself a Rebel! Had a great career doing what I loved. Many hobbies most of which I never finish because something else calls my interest. Started designing my own quilts when I retired. Finished a few early on. But the tops are more fun. Have so many unfinished. People laugh at me when I visualize fabric in a gray sky. Dress as a princess or a bum as the mood fits. Never care what others think. Etc. It goes on and on and on. The entire list. I rather like myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. By the way, I’m 68yo and have just now discovered the person I’ve been searching for all my life! What a relief! I can finally stop looking! Thank you so much!

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  10. 17 out of 25…perfect for a 17 year-old. Hopefully, the older I get, the quirkier I’ll become!
    Oh yeah, I am really interested in talking with some (or ALL!) of you eccentrics out there!
    I live in Lima, Peru and at my school, no one dares break conformity for fear of social expulsion, so it’s just me xD, and I’ve been dying to meet ‘other people like me’. It’d great to know there are others out there across the deep digital sea.l

    Please contact me!
    ladde@student.icslima.org
    and/or
    Skype: Skale_
    Click the name that simply is the letter “L”

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  11. Oooh, I’m intrigued, 24 out of 25! I never knew I was that eccentric. I am socially awkward and rather live in my head on my own or with other eccentric people and animals. Interests – more than I have the time for. Single, multiple break ups because I don’t see the point in giving up myself – done it too often. I love people and if they like me, great! If not- their loss. I know what I know and wish other people would do too. I love learning from other eccentrics. Animals and spirituality, healing and helping are my big things. I wantvto understand how the world works hence my interest in everything and nothing. I feel misunderstood a lot and can’t bare that people assume and don’t listen – and I feel this is becoming worse. My spelling is pretty good, all the other traits are more or less accurate. Anyway, happy days – who wants to be like everybody else? Favourite sayings- ‘each to their own’ and ‘only dead fish go with the flow’ 🙂

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  12. 24 were a match for me. That list nailed it. But I thought I read only 1 in 10,000 were truly eccentric? Am I really this rare? I have noticed people love to steal my ideas and eve drop when I speak which often leads to them mishearing what I said and misquoting me. Fml

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