When a Little Madness Would Do The World Much Good After All

Thank God for Mental Illness
Image via Wikipedia

“This is Madness!!!”

We hear much of what madness meant when watching 300. Leonidas was a little on the mad side when he lead just 300 men to fight the Persian army. He saw what was coming when surrounding nations went for what was called submission for peace. You know the movie too well for me to give a good synopsis but there’s something about this type of madness that we need from leaders.

A little madness would do the world much good after all.

But, somehow we’re obsessed with getting leaders who have the look of success and stability. We don’t want those who are depressed and who do not project the aura of what we picture as leadership material.

I read a recent article yesterday which comes with the title “Madman in Chief,” by Tony Dukoupil. The article follows a study done by Nassir Ghaemi who is “director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center.” He’s done case studies on the connection between the connection of mental disorders and leadership. The book he wrote which is titled “A First-Rate Madness” is the product of his studies.

The argument Ghaemi puts forth following Dukopil’s understanding is that “what sets apart the world’s great leaders isn’t some splendidly healthy mind but an exceptionally broken one, coupled with the good luck to lead when extremity is needed.”

But Ghaemi does not say that all madness is good. Dukopil is quick to comment here that, “(t)he good doctor isn’t saying that all mental illness is a blessing. Only that the common diseases of the mind—mania, depression, and related quirks—shouldn’t disqualify one from the upper echelons of public life, and for a simple reason: they are remarkably consistent predictors of brilliant success.”

And he also explains that Ghaemi is not the only one who has made connections between madness and leadership, others have also gone that was as well, but notes where Ghaemi went further in his studies by finding trails of mental disorders in political leaders such as “business leaders (CNN founder Ted Turner), social activists (Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi), and military commanders (Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman), as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy.”

The article ends with this following conclusion which I found very interesting,

So should we bring on the crazy in 2012? At the very least, we should rethink our definitions and stop assuming that normality is always good, and abnormality always bad. If Ghaemi is right, that is far too simplistic and stigmatizing, akin to excluding people by race or religion—only possibly worse because excellence can clearly spring from the unwell, and mediocrity from the healthy. The challenge is getting voters to think this way, too. It won’t do to have candidates shaking Prozac bottles from the podium, unless the public is ready to reward them for it. Amid multiple wars and lingering recession, maybe that time is now.

So, what I’m getting from this article is that we should not be too quick to write off certain people based on their health records, if we have them, and just concentrate on those who know how to have the normative and popular “leadership look.” It simply tells us that we can’t just write anyone off because of ailments. There might just be something that these people have in store to offer the world.

So, again, echoing the statement I made, a little madness would do the world much good after all, if you come to think about it.

This thus give us a good critique of what we view as marks and traits of greatness because we so often have our views trapped in a reductionistic position. What can this understanding tell of our view of leaders in Malaysia? What about the church? Or in general, what of how we view leaders? It gives us some potent restructuring in how we think about what is valued as good might not be of good benefit on a larger scale. It also might tell us that a little madness is good after all.


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