When searching for the elusive ties that bind us, researchers often turn to demographics, those dreaded categories marketers came up with long ago so they could sell us more products. Like some dystopian guide to life dreamt up at a shopping mall. Tell us your age, gender, socioeconomic situation, marital status and where you went to school and we will tell you exactly which tribe you belong to, which shampoo you will like and which beer to drink. But aren’t we more than merely our data points? Aren’t we all thinking, breathing, moving, feeling, passionate beings, no matter where we are from or which team we root for? Of course we are. We all have the potential to move society forward, to step back and look at the world from a different point of view. From Da Vinci to Darwin, it’s often those that have the ability to look away, step out of their lane, and feel freedom from the possibility of failure who wind up leading the way to scientific, artistic and sociological breakthroughs. And just as great thinkers don’t necessarily have to have titles, also those of us with the ability to understand, appreciate and be inspired by important thinking don’t necessarily have to have titles either.
In her new piece, Hunter Liguore takes us though a thought experiment asking, “How can we have free will if everything is already organized, if one’s place is already established? Can a plumber also be a scientist or an archaeologist? Would this be acceptable today? To move out of what is ordered would mean to delineate or move away from society's norms, which leads to ostracizing and ridicule, if not misunderstanding. It’s not just titles and education that are cause for either celebration or ostracism, but also things like class, appearance, dress, and race, which dictate how a person is treated and the false sense of superiority or inferiority that accompanies it. Herein lies the foundational problem facing our society, where the everyday intelligent thinker capable of great achievements (no matter what their day job is) is pushed aside or gives up, or most tragically, leaves it for someone else to do.” Read Ordinary People.
So without the pomp and circumstance, how will we recognize these alternative thinkers? And even more importantly, will our 21st century society allow for ordinary people to change lanes? Without strict demographic categories, those which truly make we the people, people, are things like inherent interests, values, and attitudes; things that cannot be recorded, measured or quantified. And here we wade into the murky waters of psychographics. Those things weaved into our DNA, our chemical makeup, our innate ability to recognize the sublime. But does the sublime know the difference between a maid and a mathematician? Should society care whether you went to Harvard or the school of hard knocks? Historically, not always. But presently, yes indeed.
“We need to reevaluate the way technology controls how we engage with each other and open up our circles past our LinkedIn profiles and past the celebrities and sycophants who aren’t leading us anywhere. We have to not be willing to just accept the stone walls marshaling the daily order and to stop allowing others to limit us as ordinary people. We need to encourage the plumber to also be an artist, or the insurance broker to also use their gifts as a solve for climate change. At the end of the day, most of us don’t want to just go to work and back home and feel like we can’t impact our neighborhoods and cities with ideas for change. We sit in church, school, or prison with other ordinary people. We ride the bus and drink our coffee beside other ordinary people. And every once in a while, we hear about an exception, somebody that wasn’t afraid to step forward and be the doer. People that believed in their own ideas, their own inventions, and their own sense of inquiry enough to bring it out into the world.”
In the end, the best we can do is look and listen for the sights and sounds of ordinary people, even if they seem strange or different, unalgorithmic, unfashionable, off trend, uncool, and especially and passionately, out of this world. They might have something important to say, something we all can relate to and benefit from. Listen to their stories. They might inspire, instruct or influence the next ordinary person to open their mind and change the world.
A person is a person no matter how small – our favorite phrase from Dr. Seuss’s most kindly elephant. Here’s the gist: Horton the elephant hears a tiny yelp coming from what seemed to be nothing but a speck of dust. He eventually discovers that deep within the dust exists an entire community of cheery people, the minuscule town of Whoville. Rather than whipping out the vacuum cleaner and calling it a day, Horton makes it his mission to protect the small town of Whoville, despite being mocked and ostracized by the other animals in the jungle, who did not have Horton’s heart and soul, and in turn, tragically didn’t believe Horton’s claims about the existence and significance of saving Whoville.
There’s a big difference between seeing and believing, but right now the story brings to mind the argument over whose voice is most important and whose stories should be told. Who gets heard when we’re all screaming into the void? A speck of dust can hold a whole world. And if each one of us can be seen as a speck, that means, like Whoville, we all have the potential to encompass worlds too. Each person has their own theories and experiences. And despite their size, or follower count, most people have the capability of contributing thought, even if an algorithm disagrees.
Horton realized another important point—depending on where you are in the universe, you’re always going to be considered a speck to someone else. The story speaks to the importance of cross-cultural and even cross-industry or cross-echo-chamber conversation. Horton is an example of rejecting groupthink and truly listening to voices and telling the stories he thinks should be heard. Which is a mantra we try to live by at the Culture Crush, even if we are just a speck of dust too!