Oliver Page

All progress depends on the unreasonable man

21 March, 2021

On the path of figuring out my purpose, I’m realising just how many of my beliefs, values and roles have been shaped by prevailing cultural norms. As an impressionable child, I was nudged toward boxes I didn’t belong anywhere near, let alone inside. But in truth, I’m tired of being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

A powerful book examining this theme is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene found a common pattern in people who find a calling: they are all willing to stare convention in the face, and if need be, defy it.

Often, this means connecting with our ‘primal inclinations’ – our oddities, quirks and seemingly bizarre obsessions which in fact hold important clues about our core talents.

Greene tells the story of Temple Grandin, a woman who managed to leverage those primal inclinations. Born autistic, her physician predicted lifelong institutionalisation when she was just three. But against incredible odds, she progressed with speech therapy and went on to attend a regular school.

At some point, it became clear to Grandin that she had an unusual talent for sensing the inner experience of animals. She later became a professor of animal studies at Colorado State University, the world’s leading designer of livestock facilities. Grandin essentially created a new field of research based on her unique gift for intuiting animal discomfort.

This really inspires me. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there. Perhaps to be of true service in the world, we need to reshape it in some way:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

~ George Bernard Shaw

This doesn’t mean we have to revolutionise an entire field of study like Grandin did. But we might need to revolutionise our relationship with ourself.

Maybe, with a spirit of curiosity and openness, we need to reframe our peculiarities and oddities as salient clues about what our purpose might be. More and more, this approach is carrying me into a territory called ‘being unreasonable’. But maybe that’s where I can really start making progress.