What is an outlier? The dictionary says that an outlier is something that lies outside the main body or group that it is a part of, someone who stands apart from others of his or her group, as by differing actions, beliefs, religious practices. Synonyms are outsider, nonconformist, maverick; original, eccentric, bohemian; dissident, dissenter, iconoclast, and heretic.
The synonyms are very telling. Groups do not treat nonconformists, dissenters, and heretics well. The challenge is that the main group does not know how to handle an outlier, a person who has differing actions, beliefs, or religious practices. A group has its normal standards of social interaction. However, in relating to the outlier, the group’s normal standards of relating do not apply, and friction results from the interaction. The outcome is unfair to the outlier person, but the group is incapable of addressing the disconnect because of their underlying social dynamics. The group legitimately cannot deal with the outlier.
I am a privileged person by some standards: White, upper middle class, and over forty. This would seem to squarely make me part of the social groups I interact with. This is not the case, and in fact I am also an outlier in most of my social groups. Why? The answer is my spirituality and world outlook. As a shamanist and psychic, and pretty opened minded guy on some really controversial topics, I would easily be labeled as dissenter, outsider, bohemian, and heretic by my contemporaries.
What can I, and other outliers, do when faced with the very incredibly uncomfortable position of being an outlier? The options seem to be: leave, languish, or lie. I could walk away from the groups, but in my case I enjoy my job and don’t want to leave it just because I am spiritually the very odd man out. I could like revel in my outlier status, trumpeting my differences to my peers, but I would have a miserable experience as my peer’s quiet derision was the 1000 pound gorilla in the middle of the room. I instead lie, hiding behind a mask that shields my outlier status from the group’s attention.
Are the options of leave, languish, or lie fair? NO. Are they reality in the social web we call life? Yes. Can I legitimately protest and fight the situation? Sure, but the wisdom of the decision, and to be frank, the relative sanity of it, seems to lay in the degree of my choice. Did I choose to be part of the group, or is it something I am stuck with? If I am stuck with it, for example, if I am born into a society in which I am naturally an outsider by gender, race, or creed, than I should protest in an effort to educate others and better my situation. It may not help, but I can at least try. If I voluntarily interact with the group, and my being in the corporate workplace is an example of this, than I am going to have to choose my option and then suck it up.
That’s my $.02 on being an outlier. Summary: do what you can if you are involuntarily an outlier. On the other hand, don’t act the innocent victim if you choose to be an outlier. Life is not fair, especially when it comes to social groups and you are the outlier.