It takes all kinds

The intersection of Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture and emerging conceptions of mental health as a human right

“It takes all kinds to make a world.”

We’ve all heard that saying more times than we can remember.

It is a simple declaration. It declares not only is diversity an inevitable facet of human existence, but that it is necessary for the very existence of our social world.

I have been hearing this saying from my earliest memories. When is it used? Almost always it is uttered when a person who is in some way divergent, in some way different, is encountered. One expresses confusion or wonder. The other then reminds the first that the person they do not understand is as vital as themselves.

It is a healing phrase. It is a phrase promoting a near sacred inclusivity that extends beyond common reason. It is a phrase that humbles the listener. It is a phrase that tells us, whatever we feel in the moment of encounter, we ultimately are too frail and feeble as individuals to truly know everything. It is a phrase which powerfully asserts the common humanity of all. If evil is unrestrained selfishness, which I suggest is the closest one will ever get to an apt definition, then this phrase is its counter.

The spirit of that phrase lies at the very heart of the cultural soul of Newfoundland and Labrador. We should be grateful. Newfoundland and Labrador is not the home of the spirit of those who exist to act upon others and call this moral. You will not win lasting support here with that approach. If that is one’s game, one best learn to play it very quietly. You will win no true support for your demonstration of power. We do not want this.

One wonders what contribution the sentiment of that phrase has made to us. I suspect a great deal. I suspect it has guided us on a level so deep we do not fully appreciate it.

Who inspires that phrase? Who are the ‘all kinds’ referring to? Who amongst us has taught us this lesson?

Undoubtedly, they are a varied group. They are us. But, it is also undoubtedly the case that a great number of those “all kinds” through our generations are people like me, and quite possibly people like you.

From Madness to “mental illness”

I am bipolar. It is the fashion of our times to call that a mental illness, but it wasn’t always so. Socrates said that madness was a divine gift from which the generative forces of culture and wisdom flowed. Madness was world building in other words. He is a pillar of western thought. I sat through three years of law school being taught via an academic method that bears his name. Socrates and his process live on, embedded in the very essence of one of our primary social order generation institutions: The Law. Of course, Law is the embodiment of rationality. Yet, the man who has pervaded it deeply celebrated what those who deal in reason call irrationality.

It’s all very complex. It tends to make one wonder what exactly is going on.

Statue of Socrates at the Louvre, Paris. Photo by Derek Key via Flickr Commons. Text from Plato’s “Phaedrus” added.

There are few subjects as complex as the consideration of the myriad manifestations and impacts of mental illness in a society. We are all affected by it, every day of our lives. We all either have a mental illness, love someone with a mental illness, or socially engage routinely with someone with a mental illness. If you think otherwise you are wrong. Pay closer attention. The next time someone at a drive-through window seems distracted and gives you the wrong order, think. You may be experiencing the impact of mental illness. Feel no anger. Be patient. Be good. Remember, “It takes all kinds”. Remember the spirit of that phrase.

Each condition varies sharply. The presentation of those conditions in the individual vary widely. Within the burgeoning movement to address the subject of mental illness you will find perspectives equally diverse.

It is clear that we have made great progress in accepting that mental illness is not a moral failing. We have made great progress in accepting that effective help can be provided. We are on the cusp of demanding our woefully underfunded mental health care system be immediately converted into something truly fit for human beings. It has taken centuries of baby steps and charity to get this far. We have not yet begun to fight, but we are almost ready.

We know there is suffering. We know there is great pain. We know there is senseless death. We know it is a serious, deadly business. We know something needs to be done, but I fear we don’t quite know what. There are many ideas. Still, the answer eludes us.

Yet, it is there on the horizon. We move closer every day.

It is true mental illness can be devastating. It is true it can be lethal for the person who bears it. It is true acute or severe disruption requires medical intervention. It is true people deserve and need help, each in their own way and time.

But, there is another truth. Vast numbers of people with mental health conditions are people who were born with the potential to become what we call ill. It is a part of us. It is a part of us before we ever experience symptoms at a level that results in our being deemed ill. It flows through generations in families. It echoes through time. The carrying of that potential, and all that comes with it, is the legacy so many of us bear.

We are very aware of the countless misconceptions and masses of ignorance that colour the entire subject. We hear it every other day. It is impossible to escape.

We were born this way.

There are few things as cruel as telling a human being that a part of who they intimately experience themselves to be, perhaps who they have always been, is simply broken. For that which is broken must be fixed. We are very aware exactly of what has been done in the past in the name of fixing the problem. We are very aware of the countless misconceptions and masses of ignorance that colour the entire subject. We hear it every other day. It is impossible to escape.

Therefore, there is fear amongst us. The fear is, sadly, justified. People still judge us. People still assume horrible things about us. People can see us as a problem to be solved. Therefore, most of us hide.  We are all around you. We say little or nothing out of fear. We cause minimal disruption. We are invisible. Yet, we are there.

That fear has just begun to lift. We have begun to speak. We are finding our voice. It builds with each year. The fear grows ever weaker as we come into our own. We are beginning to accept ourselves.

Time will tell what we will say. I have an idea.

I think we will say this.

“We are. We have always been. We always will be. We have always done our part as best we could. We love you. Could you please help us be our best when we need you? It is only fair, for you need us too.”

“It takes all kinds.”

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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