Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Definition of Insanity


I used to deliver training with a colleague who liked to kick off the session asking if anybody knew what the definition of insanity was. There would be the odd grunt, but the standard next sentence would be that she would tell them. 'It's doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.'
Then there would be a few more grunts and the odd time somebody might pipe up that they had heard this before, yes, and that it is a quote from Einstein. 
I've been reading a wonderful biography on Einstein recently, and he definitely did not say that. No, there are a lot of misconceptions about poor old Einstein, and he did say and do a lot of genial things, but  the closest I can get to finding this particular piece of misinformation by anybody of note at all, is Rita Mae Brown, and if you think about it, it definitely has a bit more of a Rita Mae ring to it than Einstein. 

So after a while of hearing this quote once a week, I began to wonder if I might be insane. Being overweight is definitely related to my insanity - I try the same diets again and again and expect different results. I have spent years believing in the good in people, over and over again I have given people the benefit of the doubt. Damn, I should have just stopped being nice after I was stabbed in the back the once. But no, I have always believed that if you treat people with unconditional positive regard, it would be worth it in the end. Turns out I'm insane.
But the thing is this, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity at all. It's just a catchy sentence from a chick lit novelist. What insanity really is, is the inability to determine right from wrong. It is defined in Law.com as:
Insanity.n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

Now it still might turn out that I'm insane, but not insane as in being persistent with things and not letting disappointments or bad results stop me from believing in the good in the world. You see, just because I've done tons of diets and never lost weight, does not mean that it would be insane to do another diet. Well, I suppose that's debatable...
I guess we all know what my colleague meant though. That if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. And even though that in itself is not strictly true, I do agree that one has to be aware of patterns of behaviour that can be destructive, and ones that work of course. But even if you do have quirky repetitive habits that do not bring the results you desire, it does not mean that you are insane. Stupid maybe, or quaint. It's what makes you your lovely self.

I assumed after two hours waiting that you had stood me up. Silly me.


Then of course there is the corny 'To assume makes an ass out of you and me.' Get it? An Ass (A,S,S,) out of U & ME. OH guffaw guffaw, how clever...
Thing is though, we need to navigate the world with assumptions. Assumptions are our findings, or conclusions, as such. I mean, how else can we ever put two and two together without making some sort of assumption. And again, yes, I know, some assumptions are not based properly on facts and we don't dive deep enough, and we see the world as we are, not as it is, but still, do you and I become little Connemara dwarf donkeys because I came to a conclusion that was not, strictly speaking, correct? The answer is, yes, indeed we do. Because to assume makes an ass out of u and me. And don't forget this one - if you point a finger at somebody, you are pointing three fingers at yourself.  I wonder was that Einstein, or Jesus maybe?

I would say that I navigate the world based on assumptions, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing. I would strongly advise never to take my advice about anything. After all,  it's coming straight  out of the asses mouth, and to top it, I am insane, right?


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