So I was at church these past two weeks and twice the speaker or pastor referred to sanity and/or insanity. So it got me thinking. Albert Einstein once said, at least I believe he did,
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result each time
(if anyone has the source for this, please let me know). How many times have we done this?
Have you ever heard someone say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? How ridiculous is that mentality or approach!? Think about it, your car needs maintenance. It needs periodic fixing, but it technically “ain’t broke.” So should we take it in for its tune up, its oil change, its tire rotation, etc.? People will repeat this slogan again and again, but all we are really doing many times is preventative maintenance or basic process improvement. They really believe that if they keep doing the same thing, they can expect to get better and better. But in reality, nothing gets better without a little fixing. Left alone, things only get worse. The second law of thermodynamics even states this in other terms! Technically it is “the entropy [measure of the disorder of a system] of the universe always increases” or simply everything is moving towards chaos.
Before I continue, let me tell a story. I used to work at FedEx as an operations manager. The great thing about that position was that it didn’t matter what you did two days ago, it only mattered what happened yesterday and what will happen today. Every day is a chance to erase what happened the day before, whether good or bad. Anyways, our hub manager, about 6’8″, 270lbs (ex-hockey player) used to meet with us daily for about a month, and every meeting was the same. He would come in and rant and rave about the day before. And then he would say, “Insanity is simply doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.” He would open the door, and take a few steps back and try to run through the wall beside the door! He would do that 2-3 times (depending on how mad he was) and turn to the group and say, “All I need to do is make one adjustment and…Boom! I’m through the door, off running!” What one adjustment do you need to make?
While the message is great, the illustration is great, and the point is great, the ironic thing was he was falling victim to his own message! He was doing and saying the same thing day in and day out expecting different results though he never got better results!
So it made me think, how would I describe sanity in light of Einstein’s definition of insanity. I believe sanity is not mere “normal or sound mind” or simply “reasonable and rational behaviour” or “mentally healthy.” I totally agree with the Wikipedia article which states:
Sanity considered as a legal term denotes that an individual is of sound mind and therefore can bear legal responsibility for his or her actions. It is generally defined in terms of the absence of insanity. It is not a medical term, although the opinions of medical experts are often important in making a legal decision as to whether someone is sane or insane. It is also not the same concept as mental illness. One can be acting under profound mental illness and yet be sane, and one can also be ruled insane without an underlying mental illness.
In his classic book, The Sane Society, published in 1955, psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire societies “may be lacking in sanity”. Fromm argued that one of the most deceptive features of social life involves consensual validation:
It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth… Just as there is a ‘Folie à deux‘ there is a ‘folie à millions.’ The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.
(Fromm, The Sane Society, Routledge, 1955, pp.14-15)
I totally agree with Fromm. One can be rational (or of sound mind), yet insane; and one can be mentally ill, yet be sane. Rational and sound mind could work, but who defines it as sound? What makes something rational? Who’s standard? Even Fromm states that the masses could be insane. So I tend to think that sanity and insanity have something to do with Truth. For businesses, truth is often defined by policy; however, there is a truth higher than policy, the law. And there is Truth higher than the law, Absolute Truth. While many postmoderns will struggle and disagree with this definition, I believe that truth is a necessary component of sanity. If they don’t agree, postmoderns could still agree with me about the law. And not to debate about absolute truth, but without a baseline of some sort (even if it is only company policy or governmental law), one borders insanity.
I also really like this definition from Wikionary:
ability to get what you want without doing things that will ultimately get you more of what you don’t want.
While this takes away the focus from a baseline or truth, it places the focus on performance and results, just as Einstein did. Sanity is the ability to acknowledge, adapt and change, even only slightly, to be able to produce a desired result.
What do you think? How would you define sanity?