I always laugh a little when people tell me how sane I am. I don’t think it’s possible to be entirely sane in a world as insane and troubled as ours, as we are beings influenced by what is around us and much of that is not good. If we were entirely phlegmatic about such matters and completely untroubled, we would probably be judged as robots and not as good human beings at all. In some circumstances, such as protecting family and loved ones, craziness is not only accepted and tolerated but is positively demanded as a social duty.
It is not a simple and a straightforward manner to determine how we are crazy. The psychological community uses a diagnostic model that is rather large and cumbersome, called the DSM, which has changed over time due to political concerns, and there has been little understanding of the overall picture of sanity or in appreciating that what we label as mental disorder is often the sane response to an insane world. I speak somewhat personally in this regard, having been diagnosed with two mental illnesses during the course of my young life, the first when I was but a small child. I can assure you that I have earned my insanity through having lived a rather challenging life. I suppose I should take some comfort in the fact that I can appear to others as being sane, given that I must act somewhat so, but it is a dubious and hard-won achievement to even give the illusion of sanity.
I am constantly reminded of how insane other people are. For example, many acquaintances, and some people I consider friends even, and who despite being quirky are people I would judge as at least sane, support political candidates that are total bat guano crazy conspiratorial types that I would not consider sane enough to vote as town dogcatcher, much less consider as acceptable for high office. Some might say that an insane time deserves insane leaders, but it is also obvious to some extent that sanity is in the eyes of the beholder. What some people view as self-evident truths are viewed by others as signs of severe mental derangement. Where there is no recognized common standard of judging truth from error, or propaganda of one partisan type or another, then each of us becomes the judge of the sanity of others, and what one considers to be obvious and moderate and mild expressions and beliefs are considered by those of a different worldview as completely insane and diabolical, indicating demon possession or mass hypnosis or imbecility or something equally unpleasant.
But in general I am not the sort of person that feels comfortable pointing the finger at others. For one, it is hard to diagnose what people are truly like when we have not walked in their shoes or know the state of their mind and heart. We do not judge others by their intentions, but on their results, and given that we all know how unfairly others judge us without knowing our hearts (and I speak with a great deal of knowledge on this fact), it is easy to forget that we just as regularly misjudge others by not seeing where they come from. It is therefore more profitable for us to focus most of our examination about sanity or the lack thereof on ourselves, given that we have a responsibility to be aware of our own thoughts and feelings and motivations, and where we get them. If we are wise, we can see how we are crazy, and perhaps at times even have the insight to examine way.
For example, I am pretty aware of my own insanity, and I’m also fairly aware of my many sensitivities. Given that I’m fairly sensitive to a lot of allergies, as well as being strongly hostile to chaos or disorder or anarchy, I can tell I have at least mild tendencies in what could be judged by the unfriendly as Obsessive-Compulsive. Here in Thailand the students at the school where I teach love to watch Monk, who is a very profoundly obsessive compulsive figure, and also highly intuitive. (I suspect that the two are somehow related, as if the mental chaos generator needed to gain great insight from leaps of intuition makes highly intuitively intelligent people also very constrained and rigid in their physical behavior.)
At any rate, I am fairly aware of my own tendencies in this regard. For example, I know that while I am no one’s definition of a neat freak that I greatly dislike having people randomize movies that I have spent some time placing in order. I have always had at least a mildly odd tendency to categorize my collection of books and music as well (the only two possessions I have ever acquired to any great degree). I happen to know I come by these qualities honestly, having seen them in close family members who share, in varying degrees, their own sort of compulsions in that regard. Likewise, I am a fussy eater of a degree that is impossible to ignore, dislike cold or lukewarm food far more than most, being extremely picky about taste and texture, and being somewhat disinclined by nature to experiment too widely when it comes to what I eat. It is as if my very far-flung and very openly experimental mind requires housing in a body that is far more conservative in its behaviors and habits in order to find some kind of internal balance.
I suspect I am not alone in that. I take a great deal of comfort in watching other people, and I have seen the same sort of balancing techniques and issues. Anyone who has profound gifts and abilities has corresponding weaknesses. The more extreme the gift or talent, the more glaring and crippling the limitation. The same is true in reverse. Even the worst problems and trials give some sort of insight and understanding that allows for good to come out of it, or allows for great worth and value for someone’s life, regardless of how limited their life might be by their suffering. We’re all gifted in some fashion (even if it takes a while to find out how sometimes), and we’re all a bit crazy too. We all struggle against compulsions and fears of some type or another, and the recognition that while we possess free will that we have habits of mind and patterns of behavior that are not strictly voluntary, or even consciously recognized by ourselves, even if they are often transparently obvious to others.
We live in a very crazy world. The sorts of traumas that people experience cannot help but greatly shape our lives. Our lives are full of uncertainty, risk, and danger, and even greatly positive events bring about dislocations that put us in unfamiliar physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual territory where we frequently lose our bearings and have trouble finding our way and keeping one foot in front of another. Sometimes we must choose between different types of insanity. Do we choose to vividly see and face our horrors, even if we are afraid that they are too much to take, or do we drown them out in self-medication and build walls to protect us from vulnerability to a dangerous world. Or do we choose different strategies based on our thoughts as to what risks are reasonable and which are not, or are we so frazzled that we have no plans at all, only desperate tactical measures designed to preserve equilibrium in the face of immense and imminent threats? Who can be sane in such a world as this?
So, perhaps instead of trying to drug or booze our way into some semblance of sanity that we might eventually feel openly comfortable admitting that we are crazy, how we are crazy, and perhaps even why we are crazy. Since everyone’s a little bit crazy in their way own way, we might feel less harried and anxious about our own insanity if we realized that everyone else shared it as well. At least then we could put our efforts into doing something about what made us crazy rather than trying to put on a brave face and hide it. After all, to the extent that it is external madness that drives internal madness, facing up to our fears and insecurities might allow us to behave in a more restrained way ourselves, allowing others to be more free and under less pressure themselves. If we ceased trying to fix the world to cope with our own fears, and admitted our fears and faced them openly, we might find that the world around us is not out to get us as much as reflecting the fears and anxieties of all in a complicated and dangerous way. Maybe then we would stop inducing insanity in others through the ways we behave ourselves. It’s a start, at least.