This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 5, 2000

April 5, 2000 - Family Values and Misfits

Here's something that troubles me. Some of the greatest people in history -- the leaders of nations, great musicians, artists, and the writers who give the library its most enduring worth -- often have very poor family values.

It's also troubling how frequently they come from hugely dysfunctional families. Their father beat them. Their mother was an addict. They were betrayed, seduced into crime or worse.

You have to wonder, does anybody just grow from a nice, normal background into a life of stunning accomplishment?

Of course, it it could be that such early and awful experience helped forge them -- made them determined to succeed, to find control of something in their lives. Such treatment might goad them into healthy suspicion, make them cunning or tenacious or some other not-entirely nice response to trouble. Plain, decent, hardworking people -- like Jimmy Carter, say -- just don't seem to have enough imagination or drive to be truly extraordinary leaders.

But there's a trade-off. So many great men litter their lives with the debris of the human beings who depend on them. There was Tolstoy, who abandoned his horde of children and much abused wife to go off and find God -- then caught cold and died almost immediately (so I suppose he succeeded). James Joyce, who seemed not to notice when his children were starving. Frank Lloyd Wright, who seemed a little absent-minded about his wives. Don't even get me started on Hemingway.

There are lots of stories like these. Mozart. FDR. Picasso. Biographers of the great never seem to use the hackneyed plot line of a happy marriage, kids who were cherished and well cared for, and a moderate, healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.

This, of course, is one of the reasons I decided not be great myself. (The other one being an absence of great ability. And I do not believe I have exhausted the list of possible explanations.)

But all of this does make me realize that much human accomplishment belongs in the hands of our most troubled citizens. Mostly, society pressures us to fit in. Yet our most enduring gifts -- the artifacts, outcomes, insights and cultural monuments seem to come from the misfit, the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner, the shaman, the maid who hears voices or the boy who sees visions.

Isn't that odd?

I have a good friend, something of a misfit himself, who considers himself a libertarian. He measures a society not by the number of people who agree with each other, but by what happens to the ones who don't. True civility does not mean total agreement or uniformity. It means the ability to treat the outsider, the one who differs, with respect. The alternative, of course, is the lynch mob, the Inquisition, or prison.

Besides, as we prove every day in the library -- if not on the bestseller lists, than at least in the stacks -- sometimes those outsiders wind up redefining the way we look at the world, what we understand and remember about our own hearts and times.

Bottom line: take a misfit to lunch. Or a good book. And take the kids.

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