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January 10th, 2020


If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Rivalnym, it is something developed by Tinkered Thinking to address a certain class of words and concepts that fall in a strange place between Synonyms and Antonyms.  A rivalnym is a word, or rather, a pair of words that are somewhat synonymous in literal meaning, but opposite in terms of the emotional valence we ascribe to the thing being described.


A pair of words that makes an easy example of this rivalnym concept are the words:


Stubborn and Determined.



Both can be perspectives that we have about someone else’s goals.  If we approve of someone’s goal, then we label their efforts as determined.  But if we don’t approve of their goal, then we see their efforts as a kind of stubbornness. 



Another set of words that can fit into our Rivalnym framework are Crazy and Genius.


Appropriately these two words have been joined lately in culture.  It’s not just that someone’s a genius anymore, it’s that they are a crazygenius!  And this trend in thinking might lend more credibility to the Rivalnym framework than we might first realize.


More historically though, the difference between crazy and genius was decidedly more pronounced.  The ill-fated story of Ignaz Semmelweis is a good example.


This Hungarian physician made the horrific discovery that new mothers were dying in his hospital because doctors were not washing their hands after performing autopsies on corpses before delivering babies.  To the modern ear this sounds horrific, even to a young person of little education.  The germ theory is so widely expected, so robust and has such a strong place in the human conception of the world that even children understand at an early age the idea of tiny and potentially harmful microbes sticking to our skin and looking for a way into our bodies.  But back in the 1840’s this concept was unheard of. 


Semmelweis figured it out by getting the doctors to simply wash their hands.  The rate of death among new mothers plummeted, and you’d think that would be enough proof for the scientific community to accept a new idea.  But alas, it was not to be so for quite a while.


Semmelweis was outspoken and forceful about his message, and because of the way he delivered his message, people thought he was crazy.  The poor guy suffered a nervous breakdown and was actually committed to an asylum where he died.


Now we might look back at the man and call him a genius for making the leap of logic and experimenting for the sake of helping people.  That’s all the guy wanted, was to help people.  And yet people ignored his message and thought him crazy.


In the world of today, it might be that we’ve started to compound the two words into simply crazygenius because we can now see so many examples where it’s clear you have to be a little mad to come up with an interesting and potentially paradigm shifting idea. 


Apple’s eternal slogan Think Different, is both a call to the genius and the crazy person.  Both such people think different.  The dichotomy couldn’t be more appropriate:


We need only ask: would you risk going crazy in order to find a genius idea that might benefit your fellow human?


Sanity certainly seems a small price to pay when you look back at the innovations that have lifted the lives of billions over the years.


But perhaps best to have your cake and eat it too.  Be a crazygenius, and try to reap the benefits in this life.


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