Being the Change, Being Yourself
I've started my new job as a telecommuter; after a few weeks I'll shift to working onsite. I was always attracted to the notion of telecommuting - fewer disruptions, plus the acceptability of pajama pants as "business casual" - but my wife wisely warned that I wouldn't take to it. I'm too relational; I miss the group dynamic. So I'm glad I'll soon be entering more fully into my new work environment, but I've been around long enough to recognize that the introduction of a new element to an ecosystem (which is a very vogue way of talking about being a new employee) introduces a fair bit of disequilibrium. And with the introduction of disequilibrium comes a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system? TWEET THIS: A new element in an ecosystem introduces a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system? This is the old evolutionary dilemma: adapt or die. Except that in this instance we're dealing with human personalities, and to change oneself simply to fit in to an existing culture can feel like the end of a significant part of oneself. In this instance, we contend with a more existential dilemma: adapt and die. Just a little bit. Is that melodramatic? I suppose it is. I'm not going to die just because I can no longer play music through the speakers of my computer as I work from my office. Given the environment in which I'll be working, I'll have to do like one of my new coworkers and wear headphones. Then there's style - another challenge to my existing habits: as an editor, I have to conform my work to the house style guide of my new employer, which, unlike my previous employer, seems to think, that commas, should be used, like, everywhere.
People who stand out as different face ongoing pressures to prove their loyalty to the majority. One way people do so is to distance themselves from those who are similarly "different."Yet another way the norm tyrannizes the deviant: the norm pits the deviants against one another. And the deviants play along, because simply by acknowledging their commonalities they establish a new norm, which establishes new deviances, which invites more marginalization. It's stunning how effective we all are at attacking one another's sense of self. Whatever. It's hard out here being a deviant. Shocker. The question is, what are you going to do about it? And how will you, a tempered radical, pursue your radical agenda in appropriately tempered ways? TWEET THIS: Any proposed change to your environment, no matter how tempered, will seem radical to some. I do wish I'd read this book fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was first facing up to my deviancies, when I was first being radicalized. Not that it isn't helpful in my current season of life, and not that it won't be helpful in my new environment (and, frankly, not that I suffered all that much for being different), but I do think we first contend with these challenges to our identity early on in adulthood, in our earliest encounters with organized environments. John Lennon actually sees this pressure reaching all the way back to our infancy:
As soon as you're born They make you feel small.The ways we engage our environments with our uniquenesses, with our distinct visions, are cast relatively early and harden into fixed attitudes relatively quickly. Cynicism plagues the tempered radical when an environment resists change; it's increasingly hard for a deviant to stay positive (or recover positivity) when their deviancy is actively, formally discouraged. Indeed, when simply being yourself feels like a battle, when your vision for the future is seen by your host culture as aberrent, Meyerson advises that "it is important to know when to stop fighting and instead look elsewhere." But because so much of tempered radicalism is a matter of identity, because our positive deviancy sets so quickly and follows us forward in life, we also have to be patient, circumspect, resolute and resilient. Meyerson quotes Keith Hammonds to remind us, in a way that is simultaneously inspiring and discouraging, that "Tempered Radicals .. are irritants to their organizations in the way that pearls are irritants to oysters." She goes on:
The capacity to push people to confront the conflicts and adaptive challenges facing a system is one of the most crucial and difficult aspects of real leadership.In this way, and really in countless other ways, tempered radicals and positive deviants are assets to any environment; the disruption to equilibrium they offer may occasionally be sloppy or produce unintended consequences - they are human, after all - but it unsettles environments that, as often as not, need to be unsettled. I count ninety-five commas in this post. Happy, new norm?