How Freud turned his outlier status into an advantage

Gardner, Extraordinary Minds, 85

Freud was in many ways an “outlier”– a Jew living in the midst of a gentile and largely anti-Semitic society; the youngest son of a father who was twice as old as his mother; a benchtop scientist whose chief skills and talents were not particularly relevant to his chosen career.  And when he began to push forward his own developing ideas about the mind, he marginalized himself even further–losing the support of even closest associate, Josef Breuer.

Thus Freud was certainly asynchronous in many ways from his surround.  There was a marked chance that this marginality would result in a disjunction from the rest of society–either temporary or permanent.  (In fact, in the mid-1890s, Freud may have suffered a breakdown.)  However, Freud did not allow asynchronies to defeat him–instead, he exploited them.  He learned much from his study of Judaism and his membership in an embattled tribe; he pondered the peculiarities of his own family relationships and discerned in them seeds of more universal personal relations; he abandoned those regions of science where he could not distinguish himself in favor of devising a domain in which his own strengths–perhaps uniquely–could be foregrounded.  And when he began to have impact, he pushed his advantages as far as he could, even to the extent of injuring those who had once been closest to him.

One cannot choose the degree of marginality–that is given chiefly by circumstances.  But one can choose the stance one adopts toward asynchrony.  Framers of experience make a positive ally out of their asynchronies and thereby advance where others might fall by the wayside.


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