The Outsider As Visionary

December 16, 2011 § 39 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“In an overstructured world only the misfit is free.” ~ Tom Robbins

“Your visions will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside, wakens.” ~Carl Jung

“Vision without execution is hallucination.”~ Thomas Edison

[Click here to read Part 1, The Outsider.] The word visionary is a nebulous term, evoking mad bouts of genius or peyote taking shamans, but we shouldn’t be scared off by the word’s exotic implication. In its simplest form, a visionary is one having or marked by foresight and imagination, fresh ideas that push the boundaries of the accepted or the known.

“When you grow up,” remarks Apple computer visionary Steve Jobs, “you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

“That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is — everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

In our last post about The Outsider, we discussed common traits, identifying the outsider as one who, to quote French novelist Henri Barbusse “sees too deep and too much.”

The Outsider is sensitive, often with introverted tendencies, imaginative, many times plagued by a sense of isolation and unreality. He does not identify with the common values of the society around him, rebelling against the role he’s been given, often out of pure necessity. Many don’t rebel, but remain outsiders forever in their hearts. To these I would encourage an outlet of self-expression. The outsider, simply put, is a square peg who finds himself in a world full of round holes.

Of course this, combined with natural sensitivity, will inevitably create some neuroticism in the typical Outsider, for which he is well known.

But, the Outsider need not be tortured by his difference. Rather, he can recognize that within his unique perspective, within his sensitivity and keen ability to “see too deep and too much” — his power of noticing what others miss, of being on the outside looking in at the way the world works — lies the seed of the visionary. This is the true destiny, the true potential, of the Outsider.

“The visionary,” Colin Wilson notes, “is inevitably an outsider.”

Often all it takes is a simple flipping of the coin to gain perspective and begin one’s journey: on the flipside of neuroticism, lies sensitivity, on the flipside of rage, lies passion; with difference comes the insight of unique perception, and within an “overly active” imagination lies boundless possibility.

Without recognition of their own potential gifts, without a constructive outlet for their depth and intensity, the frustrated Outsider can become easily depressed. We’re already sensitive, and once we submit to the pain of our own hearts, often the deluge of the world’s collective suffering rushes in as well. The unexpressed outsider can even pose a  danger to themselves or others. As the great Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran once observed:

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters.

Which is why it is essential to push in the direction of our potential. An unexpressed dreamer is like a beautifully made guitar that never gets played, but hangs collecting dust on the wall.

It’s easy to let oneself off the hook with the protest that one doesn’t have any fantastic potential. This is a cop-out. No one just picks up a pen and writes the great American novel; they put years and years into studying the craft of writing. They submit wayward drafts to ruthless revision and often scrap fledgling starts (Flaubert’s first novel was so full of flaws, he ended up burning it at the urging of his friends, after which he wrote  Madam Bovaryconsidered a masterpiece. James Joyce’s first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero, was rejected by publishers and never saw the light of day, but later became reworked into one of his most influential and critically acclaimed works, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.)

It’s a myth that the ‘true genius’ just starts painting and pulls a Picasso out of the essence of his magnificent spirit. Picasso studied formally from the age of seven onward. While Mozart showed extreme aptitude at a young age, it was no less his dedication which brought about the fruits of what is now called his genius.

You don’t have to be naturally brilliant to become a visionary; you just have to follow through and refine your craft.

You don’t have to believe in yourself, so much as believe in the importance of the journey you are on or choosing to embark upon — the innate worth of visioning, of going deeper, of creating something where there was nothing, of giving some kind of insight or inspiration to the world. Believe in the value of adding your voice, however thin and wavering, to the chorus of voices throughout history who have called out: I am here. This is how it feels to be alive, this is how it feels to be me. How does it feel for you? 

“The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders,” notes Colin Wilson. Despite, he might add, messages of conformity to the contrary. “It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

Everyone loves a successful visionary, but while one is still visioning, and brewing one’s ideas, when one is simply on the journey of discovering one’s source of strength and insight, the road of the Outsider who dares to dream is no easy foot trail.

Of course, once you’ve created some kind of product — a book, a technology, an album  — then our consumer-oriented society feels more inclined towards praise, or at least the begrudging admission that perhaps you’re not totally crazy.

Until that time, however, you must be strong. You must be the source of your own illumination; remain tenacious, patient, determined. Some days you won’t be able to summon any of these feelings, and in that case, give yourself the day off. But come morning, rise again.

The visionary is one who is tapped in to the invisible forces inhabiting mankind’s collective imagination. As Jonathan Swift  said,”Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.”  In his Psychology Today article, “Long Fuse, Big Bang,” Eric C. Haseltine, Ph.D elaborates:

“Neuroscientists have learned that the brain is an extremely efficient consumer of energy (calories from food) because it cuts corners and cheats. For example, instead of ingesting and processing all available information — and in the process consuming a tremendous amount of energy — the brain throws away most of what it senses, and frugally focuses only on a tiny percent of information that’s likely to be valuable. Ignorant brains are efficient brains, and efficient brains run cool.

“So what does your brain’s temperature (or lack of it) have to do with becoming a visionary? Everything. Another way of describing your brain’s strategy of willful ignorance is blindness. […]  Becoming a visionary is simply a matter of knowing where your brain’s hard-wired blind spots are, then focusing your mind’s eye into those blind spots.”

In other words, a person who doesn’t see or think like the rest will be all the more likely to have a visionary perspective, and pushing one’s own boundaries of perception will pay off creatively. Open your mind, embrace your own unique perspective, brew it, dream it, study the craft of it, and add your voice to the chorus.

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