ADHD involves a lack of dopamine in our synapses, leading to poor connectivity with our brain’s frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are home to the “Executive Functions”, a late addition in evolutionary terms, located behind our bulging foreheads. The result of this weakened connectivity is the executive functions are less influential in ADHD thinking. One of the functions impacted is responsible for our social compliance and conformity, resulting in the ADHD tropes of the badly behaved ADHD kid, the disrespectful ADHD employee and the ADHD prison inmate.
If we are ADHD we are less compelled to obey, more likely to challenge.
The lowered desire for compliance and conformity has profound implications on the way people with ADHD think, act and operate in society. Though less shackled to convention these non-conformist traits are not necessarily negative. Reduced compliance and conformity lead to mavericks, rule breakers and unconventional thinkers that may benefit society as a whole. Societies need rules, but humanity needs rebels!
As our species evolved, humans learned to work cooperatively in groups, but it wasn’t easy. Those that acted cohesively and worked within the constraints of the tribe were rewarded in food, shelter and protection – the group was more successful than the sum of its parts. Those individuals that acted “antisocially” would be more likely shunned and rejected. Separate from the group, their chances of passing antisocial genes to children would be severely reduced, whilst the group’s success results in more like-minded, socially compliant and conformist babies. Children that share and cooperate in games. Adults that respect their leaders and follow the rules.
Societies become ever more sophisticated and their rules more complex and elaborate. Over time they create many “social constructs“: marriage, money, religion, debt, authority, ownership and monarchy to provide structure and order. These virtual constructs work when they are widely accepted, they only exist because we all buy into the value of an agreed illusion. But these useful illusions like “money”, have proved vital and significantly helped our societies flourish. If you failed to accept them, you would be likely less successful and your failure to comply would often result in sanction and punishment.
In his epic “Sapiens- A Brief history of Humankind“, Yuval Noah Harari writes about the development of these constructs. He masterfully shows how they have benefited society but not necessarily the individual. For example, the move to agriculture and farming resulted in a worse diet, longer working hours and a shortened life expectancy. The individuals working the farms suffered. The beneficiaries were the wealthy/power elite and our species itself. The move to farming allowed for larger villages, towns and cities. Farming allowed far greater population density than more hunting and gathering. With greater populations, more specialist work roles develop and more sophisticated social constructs are created, like taxation, celebrities and subprime mortgages!
There have always been mavericks, individuals who fail to easily accept the rules, who are troubled by authority and find it hard to conform. ADHD seems to be a large predisposing factor to such a maverick personality. Less acceptance and more questioning of rules. The author is ADHD himself. Since I can remember I have never been comfortable with authority – I just don’t like it:
- I hate the idea of someone having power over me
- I do not like having to abide by rules that I had no part in creating
- I asked “why?” all the time as a child, and still do decades later.
- I really don’t want to be part of the crowd – when a band I like becomes popular that’s when I stop liking them
- I find inequality and unfairness very hard to accept
- I find myself at odds with some of societies most fundamental principles
- I struggle to be in authority over others
- I can’t immediately give respect or accept power conveyed by title, always uneasy with teachers, police and bosses
- I have run a number of businesses in large part because I don’t want a boss.
I understand the social constructs and their value but I still don’t like many of them and how their rules are applied in society. I am, like most with ADHD, a rebel. But just because someone is a rebel and questions authority does not make them a criminal. Nor does it mean they lack a moral compass. My experience coaching ADHD adults, is that ADHD adults have a quite elevated moral sense. Perhaps less based “off the shelf” from parents and society, but a more rational perspective derived from big-picture thinking and deep sensitivity – less judgemental and more reasoned too.
ADHD adults defy convention, break irrational rules, do their own thing and are often cynical about society. Thankfully, for the benefit of our society, many folks with ADHD:
- follow their own paths as entrepreneurs, problem solvers and solution developers
- fight corrupt authorities as revolutionaries, protesters, polemicists and comics
- explore radically new approaches as inventors and explorers
- challenge ineffective rules and regulations
- use humour to highlight the problems inherent in the system!
Not everyone with ADHD was a naughty child or every adult a criminal but we are all ADHD rebels at heart. Albert Einstein put it perfectly:
“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”