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Misfits - against the mainstream

What moves individuals to deviate from the mainstream's direction? It's so much easier and more comfortable to sink in the crowd. Are there people who are simply born to otherness? Would not it be better for everyone to pull in the same direction? Are "troublemakers" or misfits something we have to live with or are they even good for us?

Misfits - Against the mainstream

"If tradition takes over and leaves no new paths, society becomes immobile."

If individuals swim against the current, then that presupposes that most others are traveling in the same direction. If many behave the same way, it can be due to a variety of reasons. From an evolutionary point of view, co-current swimming is a useful strategy from an individual point of view, because it is based on the assumption that if it has proven successful for others, then it is likely to continue to have a positive outcome. Therefore, those who behave like many others before and beside them are more likely to be found than those who want to go their own way. For the individual, it is therefore usually better to swim with the large mass, for the community, however, the dreamer, the unadjusted, the innovative are indispensable.

For a population, a balance between tradition and innovation is necessary to ensure its continuity. If tradition gains the upper hand and leaves no new paths, society becomes immobile and can not react to changes. Even if the optimal solutions for the currently prevailing conditions have been found, it is not a good idea to make these the only standard. The world is not static, rather it is characterized by constantly changing conditions. Only variability within a society makes it possible to react resiliently to these changes. It ensures that mobility is maintained, which is necessary to deal with new conditions.

Misfits or a matter of personality

Those who swim with the stream, go the easy way, risk nothing, and save their energy. They are the adjusted, the traditionalists, the conservatives. They are the ones who uphold the existing. They are also the ones where others are less likely to offend. Those who swim against the tide are much more uncomfortable: they cause turbulence, get in the way, and disrupt the processes that are ingrained in their processes.

Individual differences in behavior are due to different underlying personality structures. The most widely used personality model is based on five different dimensions of personality: Emotional stability, conscientiousness, extraversion, social compatibility and openness to new experiences. The latter is the one who is most responsible for the extent to which someone is prepared to leave the beaten path. Studies have shown that people whose openness to new experiences is more pronounced also align their behavior accordingly.

Change needs flexibility

evolution History It is no coincidence that not all people have the same personality. Rather, the colourfulness, the mix, the diversity makes a population resilient. The living conditions and the associated challenges are constantly changing. Therefore, it is necessary that new perspectives, approaches and approaches are constantly competing with each other. Often there is more than one answer to a question, and often the answer that has been valid for a long time is suddenly not right. The acceleration that technologies experience in changing our living environment makes it all the more necessary for us to remain flexible in our responses. We achieve this flexibility as a society in that there is individual variability.

It often happens that the otherness Misfits is blamed. It makes no difference whether the difference is due to beliefs and attitudes, or whether it is in appearance, sexual orientation, or gender. A deviation from the mainstream means that the common drawers and strategies are inappropriate here. Misfits are therefore difficult to understand, just laying a template over them is not enough. They require us to deal with them because we do not yet have any established concepts for them.

We blame them for the effort involved because they deny us the easy way. It is completely irrelevant for the first, whether the difference may bring a desirable effect on society. So, whether they are people who, contrary to the attitude of the masses, propagate values ​​such as charity at their own expense, or people who, in the blind pursuit of their own goals, become troublemakers for all others - such patterns of behavior do not correspond to the average.

Misfits and room for development

In a society, these inequalities are of irreplaceable value. That's why we should make it our culture to embrace variability, to give appreciation to it, and - perhaps most importantly - to give it room to unfold.
In today's ever-changing world, today's misfits may be the leaders of tomorrow. Since tradition and the pursuit of retraced paths usually brings less risk than trying new things, the innovations are usually not very numerous. It is therefore all the more important for a society to create a climate that promotes a departure from the status quo, in order to increase the prospects for the continuation of society through the plurality thus promoted.

That this means for individuals that they are occasionally forced out of their comfort zone to avoid the turbulence, is a relatively small price for an open, innovative, resilient society. At this year's European Forum Alpbach, this same resilience was the subject of the discussions. Even if the answer may seem uncomfortable, evolution has long since found it: plurality is the best guarantee for a sustainably successful society. Sorry, misfits!

INFO: Misfits as a survival insurance
Only recently have Australian researchers set up a new thesis on the extinction of the most successful ancestor of modern humans. Homo erectus is the kind of human that has existed the longest in the world and successfully populated almost the entire globe. It is also known for numerous stone tools that are characteristic of the Paleolithic. The nature of these tools sheds light on how Homo erectus lived, what the food was made of, and where representatives everywhere lived. But not only that: From the specific structure of the tools conclusions can be drawn on the cognitive strategies of this early human species. The scientists from the Australian National University have concluded that Homo erectus was very lazy and tended to take the path of least resistance. That is, they always made tools in the same pattern, using only stones in close proximity, and were satisfied with the status quo. In short, they had found a successful strategy that everyone followed, and those who floated against the tide were missing. The lack of innovation ultimately catalyzed Homo erectus as living conditions changed. Other human species with more agile cognitive strategies and more diversity in their approaches were clearly at an advantage, surviving the conservative Homo erectus.

INFO: If the porridge does not taste good
The central statement of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution describes the adaptation of organisms to the environment as a fundamental evolutionary process. In this thought-construct, a perfectly adapted organism is the result of a long development process. However, this idea disregards a not insignificant factor: The environmental conditions can change. Since living conditions are not stable but subject to constant change, organisms must constantly change in order to cope with them.
However, it is not that these changes follow a certain pattern, and thus are predictable, rather they are random and it is impossible to make predictions. Organisms are therefore always adapted to their evolutionary past, and not to the current conditions. The more unstable a living environment is, the more unreliable the forecasts are. Therefore, the currently valid theory of evolution is broadened by the need to maintain a certain degree of variability and flexibility in addition to adapting to current living conditions. Variability is no guarantee of getting along better with new circumstances; rather, it is comparable to a bet where you do not put everything on one card.
For evolutionary theory, this means a progression away from an ever narrower spectrum of a fully optimized organism, towards a mix of tradition and variation. Depending on the variability of living conditions, the ratio of these two factors varies: living beings living in very stable conditions, such as sulfur bacteria, are more conservative. They are optimally adapted to their living conditions, but can only live under very specific conditions. Other organisms that live in highly variable conditions outweigh the innovation.

Photo / Video: Gernot Singer.

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