Imagine living in a society where the biggest compliment you could give someone would be that they behaved – and even thought – just like everyone else. My question would be, do you think you would like to live there?
If your heart leaps with joy at the idea, stop reading now. This post is not for you. Originality – for you – is something to be mistrusted or even feared. Change is terrifying. The idea of people freely speaking their minds fills you with unaccountable dread. Close your eyes and let your thoughts drift away to the sound of a marching band …
They’ve gone. Thank goodness. Now we can be rude about them.
The rest of us – I’d wager a much larger group – will view mindless conformity as a dystopian nightmare. Every sci-fi writer worth their salt attacks the clone or robot state, where free will and rational dissent are prohibited. There may be lackeys of repressive regimes or systems who peddle propaganda for Big Brother but their oily eulogies make sensible people feel queasy.
Sensible people want to think for themselves, thank you very much, and refuse to be told to shut up and do as they are told. Freedom of speech and action are inalienable rights, qualified only by the need to protect others from harm and hate.
So one important reason to include someone in my list of major influences would be their independence and ability to stand out from the crowd. In other words, that they were original.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to that list – https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2017/09/06/guiding-spirits/
But what is originality? I think it’s easier to recognise than describe. One thing it’s not, you’d think, is imitation … but take a look at these:
Heavens to Betsy, you cry, are we all frauds and liars seeking to bamboozle one another? Even the great Einstein is encouraging us to smuggle the answers into the exam room in flagrant disregard for the rules! But hold your horses, here is another heavy-hitter to shed light on the matter …
Turns out there’s good and bad imitation – one slavish, the other creative. You could picture the second kind as beachcombing, shaping and assembling random flotsam and jetsam to construct beautiful new and hitherto undreamed artefacts. Einstein mentioned creativity, which sounds like a separate concept but isn’t.
Habit and routine are the danger zones – good servants but bad masters, perhaps?
And talking of good and bad, somebody – I forget who – once said: Life is neither good nor bad. It is original. I do remember that Shakespeare gave Hamlet this line: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
This brings to mind one of my favourite William Blake sayings: Without contraries is no progression. A more colloquial version might run, learn to take the rough with the smooth. Mistakes and misfortunes are not only inevitable, they’re the stepping-stones to another place entirely.
As a teacher I saw only too well that an obsession with right and wrong answers can lead to cowering conformity and a timid mistrust of ambiguity, producing a fear of difference. School should be a place of open discovery. But you don’t make something heavier by weighing it.
And I don’t know if the following school report was real or apocryphal but it hits home nonetheless:
As with Captain Beefheart, whose unschooled genius featured in the interview that ended Something New #1, formal education isn’t the sole passport to success.
But what is it that school all too easily rubs off? Can the discoverer of relativity enlighten us?
Ah, Imagination, the place this post began! But isn’t making things up the root of all deception? Oh well, it seems we have to take the rough with the smooth.
Stay home, maybe, never knowing what we might have missed. Ignorance is, after all, a kind of bliss.
Another alternative voice was Kurt Cobain, who certainly knew whereof he spoke. To reduce your chances of ignoring Marilyn Manson and turning into a couch potato, this next picture features a unique customised individually-interactional element:
Phew, that’s more than enough for now! Like a lazy river, my meanderings have allowed virgin islands to form and it looks like I may have to explore them in Something New #3. Let’s hope I don’t drift out to sea!
I’ll end this segment with the Beatles and John Lennon’s haunting and characteristically honest reminder of the ease with which originality can drift into unoriginality …