“Everybody’s crazy but me and you,” my pal Tom’s old man used to tell him when he was a little kid. “And I’m starting to worry about you.”
Whenever I hear someone talk about promoting neurodiversity in the workplace—and I’ve been hearing it a lot lately—I remember my years in editorial management at a publishing company. And I recall long talks with my bosses back then, about all the absolute wack-a-doodles who worked for us—and in some of the most responsible positions.
The narcissists, the neurotics. The blabber mouths. The lazy. The truculent. The vulgar. The erratic. The horny. The sad. The anxious. The stricken. And the esoteric. Not to mention the smelly one who nobody wanted to tell. The intra-office seducers. The drunks. And, for that matter, the mailman, who walked into the office every day, evenly populated by men and women, and greeted us at the top of his lungs, “Ladies!”
A lack of “neurodiversity” did not seem to be the problem in that organization. And I suspect it doesn’t seem like the problem in any organization. Or any town. Or any family. Even if it is something we would like to promote as a society.
I’ve always thought the reason The Andy Griffith Show was so popular was that it told the story that feels like the story of each of our lives. We are the sensible Sheriff, and everyone else is either goofy Barney, or nutty Aunt Bee, or dumb Goober or nervous Floyd the Barber. Among those folks, the town drunk Otis is the most dependable, because at least he is predictable.
And the only one Andy can really trust to have the sense God gave him is his seven-year-old son, Opie. (And he’s starting to worry about Opie.)
That’s what family life feels like a lot of the time. Civic life, too. And especially work life, where we find ourselves in daily high-pressure situations with a motley cast of characters, everyone under the gun to maintain a livelihood in a gusty capitalist shit storm—working for people who are themselves often strange and unglued.
Of course neurodiversity is an important social ideal. People with ADHD, autism, learning disorders, dyslexia and mental illness should be accommodated and even celebrated. (Especially since the alternative is those millions of folks being shut out and shunned.)
But just as you shouldn’t wear your best pants when you go out to fight for truth and justice, people who are pushing for neurodiversity should never, ever forget that it’s Hamburger Hill they’re trying to take—and will perpetually be trying to take—inside economic and social institutions desperate (and increasingly so) for intellectual consensus, productive cooperation, common purpose and a modicum of social ease.
One last word, from a fellow Illinoisan I’ve come to admire—who gave a speech awhile ago that sounds like it’s about Andy Griffith himself (and the best of me, and the best of you).