Letters of Life

Originality in Overdrive

Recently, I posted this on Facebook, because it came from Barbara Barry, one of the American designers whose furniture I admire (and covet). She was quoted as saying: “I love when somebody’s deemed an eccentric. To me, it means they are being who they are.”

A friend whom I admire asked, “Is eccentricity relative?”

I said no, it was not, but then I backtracked later and agreed with him that as the eccentric often considers himself normal where others don’t, it infers a sense of relativity. I am wrong.

The word itself is the Latin eccentricus, derived from Greek ekkentros, “out of the center.” Ex– “out of” + kentron, “center”. Eccentric first appeared in English in 1551 as an astronomical term meaning “a circle in which the earth, sun, etc. deviates from its center.” It’s interesting that it took 129 years for the definition to evolve from the literal to the figurative; eccentric began being used to describe unconventional or odd behavior.

Odd behavior alone does not an eccentric make. Eccentricity is often associated with genius, gifted intelligence, or creativity. It derives from a mind so original it cannot and does not care to conform to societal norms (Wikipedia).

An example of a famous eccentric was theoretical physicist Albert Einstein; his eccentricities included picking up discarded cigarette butts off the street in order to circumvent his doctor’s ban on buying tobacco for his pipe, piloting his sailboat on windless days (“for the challenge”), and lecturing his 8-year-old nephew on physics (including a 2-hour exposition on the Newtonian properties of soap bubbles).

According to studies, the list below are distinctive characteristics that differentiate a healthy eccentric person from a regular person.

  • Nonconforming attitude
  • Idealistic
  • Intense curiosity
  • Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
  • Knew very early in his or her childhood they were different from others
  • Highly intelligent
  • Opinionated and outspoken
  • Unusual living or eating habits
  • Not interested in the opinions or company of others
  • Mischievous sense of humor
  • Usually male, the eldest, youngest or an only child

Given such stringent criteria, how many people do you know fall into this category of eccentricity?

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