Listening to Eccentrics

From Latin, "eccentricus" derived the Greek, "ekkentros" meaning out of the center.


                                Out of the center. 

Out of 




Not quite like "normal".

Some eccentrics are famous, wealthy and reclusive billionaires. Others live on the streets and speak to passersby with emotion and confusion. But the vast sum of eccentrics are all around us. Literally, around us, not in the center of us.

Recently I have had fun in my Introduction to Psychology class.  I begin my first lecture by trying to define what we mean when we speak of the "self." Where is your "you" and my "me"? I try to lace my lectures with simple experiments that students can perform with minimal preparation. One that I find particularly interesting deals with the attempt to locate the self.

William James wrote about the self as that to which we attach ourselves.  In Richard Lipka's book, The Self: Definitional and Methodological Issues, he lines out the three selves James works with. First, the "material Me (body, clothes, family, home, property), the social Me, and the spiritual Me," (page 45). In his 1890 publication, The Principles of Psychology, William James spoke of the self as:

In its widest possible sense, however, a man's Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.

The first experiment we do is a variation on the kid's games of "Sweet and Sour". This game tests the expectations we have for reciprocity. The rule of reciprocity, an expectation that my actions toward another will affect in the other a response. In the game, Sweet and Sour, one waves at people driving past. My kids have played on the street and in the back seat our car on the highway. As someone sees you, you wave at them. If they ignore you, they are considered sour, if they wave back, they are sweet.

But the shortcoming is the we extend ourselves to all those we acknowledge. And from those we acknowledge, we expect reciprocity. But first, there are the many we do not see. We miss them for lack of time, or attention, or interest. Second, there are those we do not see, because in seeing them, we might not like what we feel; whether it be obligation, confusion and misunderstanding, or even disgust.

When we come out of our centers, edge ourselves to the threshold, to the liminal spaces will we be able to respond, with reciprocity, to those acknowledge us? What stories might we tell of "living on the edge"?