As a deer in the wilds, unfettered, goes for forage wherever it wants: the wise person, valuing freedom, wanders alone like a rhinoceros.Sutta Pitaka, The Rhinoceros Sutra
From the moment we are born as human beings, the people around us prepare us to fit the herd. We start out as being part of a family, and then we expand our social life with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and, in many cases, a significant other. People tend to work together and spend time with each other, and thus, they form a well-oiled machine called society. Living among the herd has many benefits, like safety, security, access to other people including potential mates, and a shared identity that creates a sense of self. But in some cases, the herd doesn’t want you anymore, and you become an outcast. Or you don’t want the herd anymore, and you become a recluse. Or, perhaps, a little bit of both.
No matter what the reason is: some people just don’t seem to belong. And when you don’t belong, you’re an outsider. So, how do we handle being an outsider? This video explores the fate of those that live outside the herd.
The outsider: choice or condemnation?
Someone has a desire to live in ways that are considered abnormal and purposefully chooses to walk a different path. She doesn’t seem to care about being ‘original’ in ways that ‘original’ is supposed to be, which could ironically make her quite unoriginal and ordinary in the eyes of the herd, as she doesn’t follow trends, doesn’t do as everyone does, and doesn’t want what everyone wants. She has become the odd one out and is totally fine with it. Then there’s this person who longs for ‘community’ but is rejected and finds himself without a tribe. He has tried to conform, he has tried to do as the Romans do, but for some reason, he just doesn’t fall in line. This could be because of the way he looks, or perhaps the way he speaks, or simply because the people around him need a scapegoat, and he happened to be the chosen one. The difference between these people is choice; she chooses to be an outsider, he is condemned to be one.
But oftentimes things aren’t that black and white. We might claim that we have chosen to live differently, but in reality, we were never valued by our environment in the first place. And the more we dealt with things like double standards, favoritism, rejection, we slowly became disentangled from the herd and began to enjoy our solitude more and more. We started to walk our own path, and watch humanity from a distance, seeing things rise and fall, “the all singing all dancing crap of the world”. And we often reflect on how we got here: wasn’t there a place for us among our kin, or have we simply been too stubborn, too non-conformist? Is there something wrong with us? Or is there something wrong with them?
The herd versus solitude
Being cut off from the group can lead people to madness, or even worse; the act of ending one’s life. This is because of the notion that not belonging is something bad; something that we need to prevent. But here we are. Outsiders. Misfits. People that, in some way, and to some degree, don’t fit in, regardless of how this came to be. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way back. Everything is in flux, and, as humans, we’re incredibly flexible beings. In most cases, we can find our way back into society, if we’re willing to adapt; willing to rotate along with the mill of convention.
Let’s be honest: doing so has many benefits. Even if it’s just being more connected with fellow humans, and having access to a support network. Living together, working together, socializing together… These things can give us a huge boost when it comes to quality of life and overall enjoyment. It helps us to find a partner too if that’s what we’re looking for. But there’s also a price to pay, which is what many outsiders are aware of. Dogma, social control, people minding our business, and groupthink. Or in short: the herd mentality. And for many, this is too big of a sacrifice. Hence, many outsiders rather distance themselves from the group, so they’re free from its pressure.
Now, being an outsider doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The solitary life doesn’t necessarily lead to madness, and not all lone wolves end up committing horrible crimes. Outsiders have a choice in regard to how they use their position. Will they use it as fuel for misery? Or will they use it wisely? Or could they perhaps find a middle way between connection and solitude?
Hermits & recluses
Many outsiders have a deep concern for humanity, and are actually way more connected than the herd perceives them to be. History has known many hermits; recluses who, at least temporarily, closed themselves off from society to live a different life, and made great contributions to humanity doing so. American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, for example, spent two years of his life in a self-built house at a lake near the town of Concord, Massachusetts. In his solitary existence, he wrote his masterpiece Walden; a book that contains philosophical insights and social criticism that have remained topical to this day.
Also, there are countless Buddhist monks that have cultivated an unconditional love for all sentient beings, and serve the greater good in their own way. And the ancient Desert Fathers put great emphasis on kindness and charity. By learning to let go of the world, they can appreciate it more. Their relationship with the world becomes less transactional. They love the world more for what it is, and what they can give it, instead of what they suck out of it. It’s the paradox of solitude: by moving away from the world, they gained the world.
When we watch the world in solitude and from a distance, we can contemplate questions like: What’s my part in this? How can I be of service? What people do I actually want in my life? And how can I live my best as an outsider, while simultaneously remaining connected? In being an outsider lies the opportunity for a rich life. A life of meaningful connections with other people that transcend groupthink, of benefiting humanity in ways that the herd wouldn’t do, of cultivating love that’s more universal and not limited to the tribe, liberated from conventionality, and with minimal social pressure.
And if we aren’t such goodie-goodies, then we can play the world in a fashion that suits us best. We can adapt, when we feel the need to, talk like them, dress like them, enjoy their company, before we sneak out through the backdoor. In both cases, we find a middle way between mingling where we don’t fit in and preserving the freedom to leave at all times. Because where we don’t belong, they cannot obligate us to stay.
Thank you for watching.