The next time you hear someone suggest that a politician is crazy, you might want to consider the benefits of keeping her in office! In the book, A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Ghaemi sets forth this thesis: The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.
Sure to raise all kinds of eye-bulging arguments between otherwise friendly people is the notion that our best interests are sometimes served best by those who could be diagnosed as manic depressive, bipolar, or clinically depressed.
Dr. Ghaemi's thesis is based on his study of the psychological history of some of the most effective leaders during times of crisis. Included in his survey are Civil War general, William T. Sherman, FDR, Ted Turner, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and in a different sort of way, Adolf Hitler.
He uses four areas of analysis: realism, creativity, empathy, resilience. These four characteristics of leadership, Dr. Ghaemi argues, are also characteristics found in large supply among the depressed and manic during times of crisis. He explains that the type of thinking and courses of action required to navigate people through tough times are usually unconventional and would not normally occur to those who are mentally healthy.
When creative thinking is needed, it is not a matter of intelligence that is required; rather, it is the ability to assess reality in its deepest and most honest sense. Then, the effective leader must initiate bold actions, sometimes unorthodox, that respond to the right issues at the right time. Kennedy's response to Kruschev during the Cuban missile crisis is an example of this creative leadership and risky action, culminating in a meteoric rise of a nation's confidence in its president.
Only those who can synchronize with reality are able to know what the right issues are at the right moment. This "depressive realism," Ghaemi argues, is one of the benefits of depression just as creativity and resilience are beneficial characteristics of the manic phase of manic-depressive illness.
The arguments put forth by Dr. Ghaemi are based on a controversial method of studying history, that is, with the purpose of gleaning psychological evidence of mental health or illness. He dismisses critics somewhat convincingly in the introduction to his book by pointing out that historical perspective is more accurate than that of the present. He says we see the past much more clearly, making more precise judgments about it, than we are able to see and do in the present.