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Sociability • Social Virtues

Sane Insanity

It does not lie within any of our remits to be entirely sane. There are so many powerful reasons why we must lack an entirely even keel. We have complex histories, we are heading towards the ultimate catastrophe, we are vulnerable to devastating losses; love will never go wholly well, the gap between our hopes and our realities will be cavernous.


In the circumstances, what we should aim for is not sanity, but a wise, knowledgeable and self-possessed relationship to our manifold insanities, or what we might term ‘sane insanity.’ The sane insane differ from the simply insane by virtue of the honest and accurate grasp they have on what is not entirely right with them. They may not be wholly balanced, but they don’t have the additional folly of insisting on their normalcy. They can admit with good grace – and no particular loss of dignity – that of course they are rather peculiar at a myriad of points. They do not go out of their way to hide from us what they get up to in the night, in their sad moments, when anxiety strikes, or during attacks of envy. They can – at their best – be dryly funny about the tragedy of being human. They lay bare the fears, doubts, longings, desires and habits that don’t belong to the story we like to tell ourselves about sanity. They don’t make ready confessions to let themselves off the hook or to be eccentric. They simply realise the unreasonableness of expecting to be reasonable all the time. They warn others as far as possible in advance of what being around them might involve – and apologise promptly for their failings as soon as they have manifested themselves. They offer their friends and companions accurate maps to their craziness, which is about the most generous thing one can to anyone who has to endure us. The sane-insane among us are not a special category of the mentally unwell: they represent the most evolved possibility for a mature human being.

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