September 17, 2008

We need square pegs

Conformity rules, by and large. In all communities, both animal and human, the non-conformist is often ostracised, or at best hidden away, ignored, or discriminated against.
A "square peg in a round hole" is one expression used to describe the sort of person who also attracts labels such as "show-off", "trouble-maker", "rebel", "loose cannon" or "maverick". Someone who habitually "rubs people the wrong way" through outspoken-ness, ambition, manner, or achievements.
And yet we know that evolution, adaptations, inventions and advancements are usually the result of one or more individuals not being the same as everyone else. So why penalise those who are deliberately different, who challenge the safe uniformity of our "herd"?

In the non-human animal world, I can understand that prejudice is based on an instinct for survival - the possibility that such an individual will attract unwanted attention from a predator. But what is our justification?
Surely we cannot seriously believe that just because a person does not "fit in", they are a threat? And yet we so often treat them as if they were. Are we so insecure that we have to try and force these people to conform to the social norms that we have chosen to follow? Maybe they do indeed scare us, because when they continue to act outside those parameters, we band together, getting the wagons in a circle to protect ourselves. From what, exactly?

Example 1
This week I watched a television interview with a neurosurgeon, Dr Charles Teo, who has been shunned and publicly derided by his professional colleagues. Not for malpractice or anything like that, but basically for annoying them and not behaving like they think he should. 
True, he is also outstandingly good at his job, and has an astonishing success rate ... but I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with his colleagues'  antipathy. 

Examples 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ...
I have been reminded yet again this week of a particularly counter-productive tendency at the Open Directory Project , where high achievers within the volunteer community are often harried, ignored, or slowly but surely driven away. It is sadly rare for such people to be appropriately recognised for their dedication and contributions, and I believe this is for the reasons I mentioned above: they are "square pegs" - outspoken, or irreverent, or too openly ambitious, or simply seen to be doing too much. 
No, wait, that can't be right. As with Dr Teo, surely it can't be that their achievements make others feel uncomfortable about their own contributions.
That just wouldn't be fair, or sensible, would it.


Anonymous said...

hmmm... I think today is the first time I've ever thought of Rob as "square"... but it seems it's so!

While it's true that we do sometimes circle the wagons to protect the wimmenz and chilluns (and hosses), it's equally true that groups will form mobs, seeking to search out and destroy anyone who does not conform, anyone who has a novel idea, or even anyone with a different hair color. I've seen this "mob mentality" in action more than once at the ODP, and got sucked into it a few times too (a fact which I'm not too proud of). This is one reason it's so important to have mature admins and metas. They have life experience that tells them to avoid these types of knee-jerk reactions.

Regardless of what anyone may say, the public opinion of the ODP as "corrupt" does have an affect on the editors, from the bottom to the top. The need to seek out and destroy anyone even suspected as "editing with bias" overtakes and murders the need to find good solid editors who only wish to find and add sites in order to make the web a better place. It's a shame, really. Excelling = certain death, since there's no reason you'd want to excel unless there's something in it for you, right?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments, Kat (and as one of those sensible and "mature" metas, we need you back!)

Unfortunately it is true that there are many opportunities for editorial abuse, and far too much volunteer time is needed to identify and correct such damage. But when good editors are criticised and ridiculed for contributing "too much", you do have to wonder at the logic.

Abusive and self-interested editors have no place in the ODP, but we certainly need the honest, experienced, enthusiastic but perhaps unconventional people. I have been proud to call many of these "square pegs" my friends, and it is a huge loss to the directory that they have been driven away for the reasons in my post.

Anonymous said...

Who ya'll driving away this week?

And kat can only come back if she supports Ishtar for Admin(TM). Them's the rules.

Unknown said...

I dare not answer the first part of your typically perspicacious comment, ishtar, but thank you for giving me the chance to use the word!
However, I hope it won't affect your campaign to learn that in general admins are expected to be current and active editors. Of course there are several notable exceptions, so you might be in with a chance. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, the plan is to stay away for 2-3 more years, apply for reinstatement, and then insult all the editors who had actually been around during my absence. This strategy was chosen for two reasons. 1, I'm good at doing nothing and insulting people. 2, it has been shown to work in the past. It's foolproof.


I'm ishtar, and I support this message.

Anonymous said...

LOL. Hey Ishtar... I see you're approaching the admin job with a massive charm offensive.

Lemme know how that works out for ya. :-)

Unknown said...

I doubt very much that charm is a pre-requisite. ;-)


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