There is over seventy years’ research that proves conclusively that you and I, as normal people, are crazy. Our minds control us, not the other way around as it should be – as sure a definition of madness as I have ever seen. The evidence started mounting up all the way back in 1936 when a certain Professor Stroop proved that our inability to pay attention even hinders us paying attention to what we want we have decided to pay attention to! His was the seminal work that led to the psychological concept of automaticity – the way in which we perform all our routine tasks completely mindlessly, whilst our minds are actually off playing in the bizarre parallel universe of “stored knowledge” – stuff that we learned long time ago, in our formative years, that we use nowadays to try to make sense of what is going on in the here and now. In the process, of course, we make complete nonsense of the here and now – we never really experience it.
There’s a derogatory Irish expression about people who are “not all there”. Similar expressions might suggest that such individuals are “a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic”! Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, these expressions are bang on the button when it comes to describing you and me as normal, mindless people. In fact, I think these expressions are unduly nice to us! And, as a recent TV program demonstrated quite clearly, we’re really prepared to do pretty much anything – we’re prepared to be really and truly crazy. Take a quick look at the furore that has arisen in France over the documentary (masquerading as a TV quiz show) that demonstrated very clearly that normal people will deliver lethal electric shocks to each other if they think there’s something in it for them. Recently prime-time French national television aired a programme where “competitors” were cajoled, urged and bullied into electrocuting someone who they thought was giving wrong answers to quiz questions – right up to the point that the electrocutee (I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean) apparently passed out or died.
But I really don’t know what the furore was all about. The TV show was simply a mainstream repeat of the now infamous experiments carried out the behavioural psychologist, Stanley Milgram, in 1974 at the University of California Berkeley. Research participants were encouraged to deliver lethal doses of electricity to someone who, very similar to the television show, failed to give the correct answer to questions. Participants willingly administered up to 40,000 volts of electricity into the person who answered the questions incorrectly. Unknown to the participants in both the research and the more recent television show, no electricity was being used at all – but they didn’t know that!
Unfortunately, normal people will walk all over each other, scramble over each other like rats (apologies if there are any rats listening) to, supposedly “better themselves”. It says little for our species that, time and again, it has been demonstrated that we’re only too willing to destroy each other – and it’s even more reprehensible that people should pick on a poor French TV producer who was only trying to make this very point, when, in fact, this behaviour is before our very eyes every day of the week – whether it’s the greedy scramble for bigger investment gains and bonuses that plunged the world economy into its current mess, the knifing each other that goes on at work when there’s a promotion at stage, the thrill the work bully gets from inflicting psychological pain on the object of his or her attention, the husband who beats the wife or vice versa. And, we haven’t even got around to mentioning the carnage of war and terrorism. Yes, there’s more than seventy years research that proves that normal people should be locked up – and that the key should be thrown away.
What can we do about it? Well, there’s no chance that either you or I will change anyone else’s behaviour – unless, of course, we are prepared to stop being normal ourselves. Unfortunately, however, you’ll find subtle peer pressure everywhere, from the media to your buddies at the bar. No one likes to stand out from the crowd, no one likes to be the wimp that wouldn’t electrocute the quiz contestant! But, do the buddies at the bar really care? Do fellow television show contestants who never met each other before and will probably never meet each other again care? With the exception of, perhaps, a small handful of people, we shouldn’t give a damn about what normal people think of us, because they don’t – they’re too busy worrying about what all the other loonies think of them.
In other words, you don’t have to be bold, brave or courageous to be abnormal – you simply have to have your own true self-interest at heart. You simply have to know the difference between short term gain (the money the television show participants thought they were winning for electrocuting somebody) and real self-improvement or personal growth – the kind that, from my own personal experience, doesn’t just help you become a more rounded, centred, happy and successful person – but one that actually does pay out – really, money will look after itself if you look after you first.
So, you and I have a choice. We can continue being crazy, in the mistaken belief that it’s alright to be crazy because everyone else is crazy. Or we can step out, rise above the norms of a crazy normal world, be all that we can be and help positively influence the lives of those we claim to love.
Willie Horton has been enabling his clients live their dream since he launched is now acclaimed two-day Personal Development Seminars all the way back in 1996. His clients include top leaders in major corporations such as Pfizer, Deloitte, Nestle, Merrill Lynch, Wyeth, KPMG, G4S and Allergan together with everyone from the stay-at-home parent to sports-people. An Irish ex-banker and ex-accountant, he lives in the French Alps from where he travels the world as a much sought after motivational speaker and mentor. In 2008 he launched Gurdy.Net where is self-help seminars are now online. For more information visit http://www.gurdy.net