Asserting strength over other people is all about power and control. Moreover, turning someone else into an object of scorn deflects attention from our own shortcomings.
Ironically, it’s often the bullied eccentrics of this world who have the very thing that others crave – a kind of inner power born of deep-seated self-confidence. They might struggle to fit in socially, but it doesn’t stop them from pursuing favourite hobbies and behaviours that others find quaint, weird, or incomprehensible. They have the sense to realise that the judgment of others is irrelevant, and that the key to happiness and satisfaction in life is doing what you love, and doing it as well as you possibly can.
When I think of eccentricity, I can’t help but remember my years in Girl Guides, and the lady who was our leader.
For 5 years of my life (until age 15) I was a Girl Guide (or “Girl Scout”). I kept this fact very quiet indeed. It was supremely uncool to be in Guides. However, even those among my Guide friends who were Cool Girls at school quietly kept coming every week. Naff and anachronistic and cringe-making it certainly was at times (what 14 year old would admit to gathering with a bunch of other girls in uniforms to sing The World Song, execute three-finger salutes, and build stuff out of wood and rope?) It was, nevertheless, fun and challenging, and we learned things there that I wouldn’t otherwise know how to do – I learned to build a fire and cook edible food on it, I learned (after hours of service at a disabled children’s home) how to take care of kids with various physical and mental disabilities, and I even learned how to make quite useful things out of wood and rope. We were often challenged beyond the four corners of our life experience, and it was pretty great when we found we could deal with those challenges.
It was also, frequently, a lot of fun.
We did hair-raising outdoor night-stalking. We played a fantastic (and borderline blood-sport) game known as “duster hockey”, where two girls at a time, each armed with a long wooden stick, would battle it out, trying to push a piece of cloth to the end of the wooden-floored room and flick it up onto a chair to score a goal. One year we entered a talent contest known as Encore. One of the mums was a professional dance coach, and somehow she transformed our group of ungainly teens and pre-teens into a slick, vibrant act, resplendent in 80s dance fashion and with hair back-combed to within an inch of its life, strutting our stuff to “Funky Town”. We were actually chosen to represent our state at a national concert in Sydney (a city many of us had never visited before that). We met other girls from all over Australia. It was incredible.
I would never ever have admitted it back then, but something else I secretly liked about Guides was the part that was completely uncool - the part you were supposed to scoff at with disdain – the ritual of it all. I liked the uniforms and the ceremonies and the fact that there was a masterable “right” way to do things. I liked the idea of being part of a worldwide network and a long history. On Guide camps I felt a certain mysterious joy as we sat around the campfire at night, wrapped in blankets, singing songs. I certainly didn't let on to anyone how much I enjoyed all this.
Our leader was the only person I knew who had zero disdain (real or feigned) for any part of Guiding. She loved it all with a passion, and she wasn’t afraid to admit it. She was known to us by her Guiding name, Dixie. Some of the younger girls didn’t realise that it wasn’t her real name. Even our parents called her “Dixie”. Somehow, it was fitting. Dixie was who she intrinsically was.
She was a true eccentric.
Dixie was a stickler for accuracy and perfection in all the rituals – everyone marching into position at the start of meetings; flag-bearers carefully placing the world flag in position; National Anthems and Taps and salutes in all the right places. The sight of a perfectly-executed knot or an immaculately-polished brass Promise Badge would bring a happy smile to her face. At big events – gatherings of Guides from all over Queensland or further – it was always Dixie who was asked to get up and lead everyone in the various songs, because she knew every single one of them word-for-word. She would smile with unselfconscious joy as she led the singing, completely unembarrassed.
She was literally an expert in Guiding, and she took a quiet, happy pride in her ability to do it all.
As our leader, Dixie was unbelievably active. I remember overnight camps multiple times per year, trainings, sports days, swimming carnivals, and fund-raising drives. Remember, she was not paid a cent to be a Guide Leader. Her work was 100% voluntary, and she organized most events almost single-handedly.
She was constantly cheerful and even-tempered; she was endlessly energetic. There was something almost unreal about how happy and selfless and capable and unflappable she always was. She never said a bad word about anyone and she rarely showed anger or frustration. She was the epitome of everything a Girl Guide was supposed to be.
Little idiots that we were, of course we couldn’t help but mock Dixie sometimes behind her back – her loud-and-proud singing of Guiding’s Greatest Hits, the fact that she could quote the Guide Handbook practically verbatim, and her almost cringe-making enthusiasm about it all.
Now, I wish I could find within myself what she has. She has found her life's calling. She leads expertly and from the heart, and clearly gets immense fulfilment and satisfaction from it all. She attracts admiration and gratitude, and even awards, from people who can’t believe the extent of her community service, but I doubt she does it for the thanks or the kudos.
And I doubt she will ever look back on her life and think, I wish I’d been more mainstream.
I found this photo of her online, taken three years ago. There she is, still in her element. She looks a tiny bit older these days, but her smile is exactly as I remember. The smile of a truly happy person.