Do People Say You’re Crazy?

First of all, they may be right. If everyone tells you you’re crazy, you should be concerned. Especially if those you trust the most are convinced you’re unhinged, you should probably be evaluated by a psychiatrist.

However, even when you are 100%, bona fide sane, you may have to deal with the misperception that there is something off kilter in your perceptions or behavior. It happened to me.

I’m not too concerned, since there are even maniacs out there who consider C.S. Lewis to be a tad daft due to his counter-cultural (i.e., Christian) views.

In an article measuring his legacy a half century after his death, James Como said, Lewis’ “long and unrelenting resistance [to civilization’s decline] yields a commanding perspective that is not only not cultural, not only not trans-cultural, not only not merely counter-cultural, but almost anti-cultural; in a word it is supra-cultural . . .”

Surely Lewis’s sharp-shooter’s application of the phrase “enemy-occupied territory” to Western culture must come to mind.  Of course, from inside the culture, it is Lewis who must seem crazy: if not quite as febrile as  Jeremiah out there in the wilderness, surely close enough?  And so his genius – the application of his transcending individuality – is to present us with a choice: in or out?  We, with Lewis, might escape, leaving the Zeitgeist behind.

I’m with Lewis, which I understand makes me suspect in the eyes of the worldly. But it’s not my faith that has caused me to be labeled as crazy for many decades, even by family members whose love for me is beyond question.

It’s all about that despicable herb some people sickeningly regard as delicious – cilantro. As early as I can remember, I would sometimes have a meal where I found a dish had been contaminated by soap. It was horrible. Not just unpalatable, but inedible.

Everyone would praise the food and call me crazy. Especially when I told them why it tasted so bad. It was because it tasted like the chefs had grated a bar of soap over the meal. They would all laugh, look at each other with that “he can’t be serious” expression, and resume their dinner. Meanwhile, I’d basically go hungry, since I was unwilling to eat the perfectly “good” food.

After many years, as an adult, I finally was able to analyze the problem and identify the culprit as cilantro. This did not, unfortunately, restore my mental credibility. Now everyone was certain I was insane, because the whole world knows cilantro is delicious! My case was weakened by the fact that I thought the seeds of the plant, coriander, were just fine. Ahah! That inconsistency proved to them that I was faking my dislike for some unknown reason.

During the decades that followed, I would try to avoid the herb. Occasionally I would bite into something only to unexpectedly encounter the dreaded flavor of a bar of soap. If it was minor, like mixed very lightly into the salsa, I could force myself to ignore, but it was still there, robbing me of the opportunity to really savor my meal.

If I mentioned that I had tasted the cleansing residue, I’d get the familiar quizzical looks and drop the subject. Until one glorious day when one of the other people at the table said, “it tastes like soap to me too.” And I learned they too had lived under the stigma of being a nutcase.

Over the years (I’m not young), I encountered a number of like spirits who shared my alleged dementia. I delighted in assuring them they were not alone. Like most people who truly are crazy, we had learned to try to mask our aberrant tastes and blend in with the cilantro-enamored masses . . . lest we be treated as outcasts.

Still, I wondered why only a small number of people shared my experience, when the taste is so pronounced it can taste literally like biting into a bar of Ivory.

Thank God, I was finally rescued by genetic scientists. Per Brittanica, “for those cilantro-haters for whom the plant tastes like soap, the issue is genetic. These people have a variation in a group of olfactory-receptor genes that allows them to strongly perceive the soapy-flavored aldehydes in cilantro leaves.”

And, in a related article, they warn about one member of the aldehyde-family you will want to steer clear of: “formaldehyde (HCHO), also called methanal, an organic compound, the simplest of the aldehydes.”

Pure formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas with a strong pungent odour. It is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes and is associated with certain types of cancer in humans and other animals. Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

Cilantrophiles be warned. It may be cilantro is just a gateway aldehyde. Now who’s the crazy one? The lesson – don’t be hasty in judging the mental acuity of others. (With the single exception for contemporary Americans, who feel compelled to say the absolute worst about anyone who has different political opinions.)

On a serious note, actual mental illness is no joke. Whether it’s genetic, accidental, or degenerative, it can destroy the life of the victim and all those who care about them. If you don’t have any acquaintances suffering in this manner, there are plenty of places you can volunteer to serve these various communities.

Providing love and encouragement to others is always admirable. When we do so for those unable to “repay” us in any way, it’s doubly rewarding. Jesus had something to say about that, and you can read it in Matthew’s Gospel.

C.S. Lewis on Stupidity

Just because someone did something extraordinarily stupid does not mean that another fool should repeat the act. And C.S. Lewis would agree.

This summer a (likely unemployed) Coloradan decided to push a peanut to the top of Pikes Peak – a 14,115 foot American landmark – using his nose. Talk about stupid. His ambition was to be the first person in the twenty-first century to accomplish this pseudo-impressive goal.

That’s right, “in the twenty-first century.” Oddly, he is the fourth man (women are too intelligent, IMHO) to waste time in this pursuit, but the others proved their mettle in the twentieth century.

Simple stupidity is not the oddest motivator of irrational actions. Some people feel compelled to pursue death-defying activities. Those of us who would prefer to avoid danger whenever possible, are confused by others who embrace it.

Quite recently, “the body of an American mountaineer whose daring achievements brought her acclaim among some of the world’s most elite climbers was found . . . on a peak in Nepal.” Apparently, she climbed the “world’s eighth-highest peak” so she could ski down from its peak.

Hilaree Nelson, 49, and her romantic and climbing partner, Jim Morrison, were trying to ski down Manaslu . . . An avalanche apparently blew her off a cliff onto the south face of the mountain, opposite of their intended route of descent.

Tragic, most would agree. Foolish, many would add.

Doing something silly falls lower on the FDS (foolishness disorder spectrum) than does taking arbitrary and utterly unnecessary risks.

C.S. Lewis offers some interesting counsel to a woman who shared concern about the marital frustrations of someone close to her. (Yes, people actively sought his advice.) He ranks ignorance very low on the scale of relationship problems.

It is a great joy to be able to ‘feel’ God’s love as a reality, and one must give thanks for it and use it. But you must be prepared for the feeling dying away again, for feelings are by nature impermanent.

The great thing is to continue to believe when the feeling is absent: & these periods do quite as much for one as those when the feeling is present. It sounds to me as if Genia had a pretty good husband on the whole.

So much matrimonial misery comes to me in my mail that I feel those whose partner has no worse fault than being stupider than themselves may be said to have drawn a prize! It hardly amounts to a Problem. (Correspondence, 1953).

So it is, that while obviously undesirable, stupidity is not a bad thing in itself. In “The World’s Last Night,” Lewis includes the trait in a curious list. And the passage suggests to me the dangers implicit in allowing one‘s ignorance to jeopardize their wellbeing.

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.

It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

It is precisely when what I would identify as stupidity inspires dangerous activities, that C.S. Lewis would rule it to be detrimental. And this brings us to the question of why some few people do what the majority of us “saner” people would avoid.

Why Do People Pursue Risky Activities

For our discussion here, I am not including people who face danger due to their vocations. Doubtless some “first responders” and military members relish brushes with death, but they are in the minority. Most are not eager to court death.

It has been debated as to why some people are drawn to the most hazardous of so-called “extreme sports.” The uncharitable might attribute a vulnerability to the siren call of danger to mere stupidity, but there are other factors at work.

However, some people are conditioned by their upbringing to participate in unsafe behaviors (e.g. base jumping, smoking or alligator wrestling). And, in recent years, we have been hearing more about genetic dispositions to such activities. It appears there is some merit to the notion of there being a “risk taking gene.”

A major 2019 study reported in in Nature Genetics “identified . . . 99 [genetic] loci associated with general risk tolerance.” An accessible discussion of the study says, “the genetic variants identified in the study open a new avenue of research on the biological mechanisms that influence a person’s willingness to take risks.”

In any case, DNA is only one, limited factor. Researchers confirmed “non-genetic factors matter more for risk tolerance than genetic factors. The study shows evidence of shared genetic influences across both an overall measure of risk tolerance and many specific risky behaviors.”

Lacking the fear gene is not quite the same thing as being courageous. As noted above, a person may face danger because of a valid reason. Thus “first responders” and most military members I served as a chaplain were not foolhardy. They didn’t take unnecessary risks. But most were willing to place themselves between very real threats and those they were protecting.

If you personally are of an adventurous nature, I encourage you to take sensible precautions. Avoiding rafting on Class VI rapids and cave diving – anywhere – would be a good place to start..

And for the less daring among us, perhaps we can avoid foolish pursuits that are merely a waste of time. It seems apparent to me that time spent serving others in a food bank, or mowing the lawn of a disabled neighbor, constitute a far better use of our time.