In Praise of Weirdness
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

I once had a paralegal that would bring her daughter who had just started school to the office from time to time. Occasionally when I would talk to the daughter she would find my comments "unusual" and she would say, "You're weird!" I always responded by thanking her profusely. She, in turn, also found that "thanking" weird. I made it a point to explain that I considered her evaluation a compliment, and not a criticism. I told her that "weird" people tended to be interesting, especially as opposed to people who had no unique ideas. This I still believe.

Of course, it is not weirdness in itself that is a virtue. What I meant (and mean) is that being an individual means thinking for yourself, not just automatically adopting the ideas of your friends and family.

Being called weird should be claimed as a virtue to the extent that one has done the hard work of thinking something through for oneself and arriving at informed conclusions. Children, especially, need to understand that standing apart is not necessarily a sign of being wrong. Too often, in adults as well as children, the virtue of independent thought is undermined by peer pressure. A mark of an independent person is the ability to stick with one's beliefs, even if they are unpopular.

And although being in a minority does not guarantee one is right, being ready and willing to employ reason to defend one's position is a sign of intellectual development that is in itself virtuous. One does not have to always be right, but one does have to have a respect for the facts and a willingness to go where the available evidence leads.

In the end, everyone has to decide everything for themselves. Accepting the majority viewpoint without reflection is itself a choice, and fraught with dangers. One may not always have the time or inclination to do an independent examination of the evidence, but one should recognize the risks in accepting someone else's opinion without examination.

When I thanked the preschooler for calling me weird, I was signaling to her that being different is not a source of shame, and it is okay to do your own thinking. If one has put in the time and effort to decide on a position, however unpopular, one should wear as a badge of honor the observation "You're weird." Whether intended or not, take it as a compliment. And always take the time to let a young person know that being different is not the same as being wrong.

September 7, 2011
Copyright © 2011 Donald Ray Burger. All Rights Reserved.

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