The Week of Outliers

I’ve been thinking a lot about “outliers” this week.  Malcolm Gladwell had a bestseller by that title, and said about it,   “I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.”

There have been several outliers in the news this week:  Steve Jobs, whose untimely death will rob us of whatever new, world-transforming technology he might have come up with; Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — Africa’s first elected female president — her compatriot, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakul Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner, who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; and Tomas Transtromer, who was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature, after having been criticized early in his career for being “not political enough.”

What is it that made these people, and others like them, willing to overcome their fear, their need to conform and their apathy, to do something, be something, say something?

The Occupy Wall Street protesters inspire me, as well.  Yes, some of them are not very well informed.  Yes, some of them are not dressed very professionally.  But aren’t they saying something you’d like to say?  Are they saying anything you haven’t said in your living room, away from the threat of handcuffs and billy clubs, and pepper spray?  Is it so beyond the pale to say that it’s wrong for oil companies and health insurers to have made record profits in the last three years, when those are the two areas where most Americans have felt most financially assaulted?  Shouldn’t banks and large corporations have to obey the law, and also obey the spirit of the law, not find ways to subvert and circumvent it?  Is it right that one percent of the US population holds 40% of our wealth, or that we’re not raising taxes on the wealthiest among us, even as they ask us to?

This week I encourage all of us, myself included, to connect with our inner outlier.  Whatever you do, however large or small a blow you make against group-think, and sameness, and timidity in the face of difference, make sure it is your act, and your thought, and your voice.

Quote for the week:  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.      –Steve Jobs

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