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The Education of a Rebel: Knowing When to Rock the Boat

I think my mother and father were both very strong rebels in their own way.  My mother rebelled by becoming a mathematician at a time when proper women were not supposed to do that in the 1940s.  And my father, he still rebels against everything. So, in a way, I was their surrogate rebel. 

So, it runs in the family. But it’s a useful skill and I’ve tried not to get carried away with it. Now, I’m quite happy being respectable but still questioning everything.  I think that's the important thing. 

I think different people are called to different things which is why I think human society succeeds as well as it does. Because most people just are quite happy working cooperatively as part of a group and they want to belong to a group.  And some people are sort of oddballs, like Alan Turing was certainly someone who tended to work on his own.  Yet, when the war came along, he became actively part of a group to deal with a common enemy.  

I think I’m a little bit the same way.  One reason I like working on boats so much is because, when you’re crew on a boat, you really are part of a group.  It's very clear who’s the captain. There's no debate.  There's no debate about who cooks and there's no debate about who cleans the fish hold.  You just do your jobs and I think that's a good way to run things. 

I was like 17 and I was 19 when I ran off and built a tree house.  It’s very sad that there are fewer opportunities in that sense today. At the time, any kid could go work in a logging camp in Canada and survive quite well and think about what they wanted to do with the rest of their life and come back with enough money to make a start at it.  And that's harder now.

Now, in a way, the digital world is sort of the logging camp of the 21st century.  That's if you’re a 22-year-old kid, you can go work for a startup.  It’s like working in a logging camp and you’ll hopefully come out of it with enough to find out what you really want to do with your life, if it’s not to keep working for that startup.  

But we’ve lost that.  The world’s a little bit too tame now in the sense that you can't just run away and be a deckhand as easily as you used to.  But the old people are always saying the good old days are over, so I’m not going to say that.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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