Outliers & The Man from Wales

“To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate”.

(The Social System, 1826) From the Foundation Axioms of Owen’s “Society for Promoting National Regeneration”

Scotland

In statistics, an outlier is simply an observation that is situated a significant distance from the expected range of values.  When you apply the term outlier to an individual, this definition comes alive with expressions such as: maverick, eccentric, nonconformist, and outsider.  We like to belong to a group, a community, an organization, working together in harmony with others for a common cause. Very few would choose to stand apart from the group, to be an outlier.  It is the outliers, however, that make us re-examine prevailing standards and trends, motivating us to set course in a new direction.

Robert Owen was an outlier, a change agent, by words and actions.  Born on May 14, 1771, in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, he became a social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He believed that when people cared about each other it would generate extraordinary outcomes for society

At the young age of 29, Robert was part-owner of a Manchester cotton mill.  While on a visit to Glasgow, he fell in love with Caroline Dale, the daughter of David Dale, proprietor of the New Lanark cotton mills in Scotland.  These mills had been opened in 1785 by David Dale and Sir Richard Arkwright.  After his marriage to Caroline, Robert became manager and part-owner of New Lanark

Robert’s priority was the workers whose livelihoods depended upon employment within his mills.  He enhanced their housing and sanitation, provided medical supervision, and set up a cooperative shop that sold provisions near cost.  His greatest dream was to educate children.  He established the first infant school in Great Britain based on his deeply held belief that improved circumstances would act as a beacon of hope.

“Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men…They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty.”

Robert Owen, (1771-1858) Book of the New Moral World: Sixth Part, 1841
Scotland

Robert’s life was dedicated to building a fairer society where all could live without fear of hunger or want, secure in the knowledge that their children would be educated and that their efforts would be valued.  Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels paid tribute to Robert, as the man who gave them the basis for their theories. Even in today’s world, Robert Owen’s ideas remain remarkably relevant.

It has been said that when Robert Owen was on his deathbed, a minister asked if he regretted wasting his life on fruitless projects.  His response was simply:

“My life was not useless; I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time.”

40 thoughts on “Outliers & The Man from Wales

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, Joseph and for adding to the dialogue. I often wonder if we really do understand the past in a way that reflects on our individual behaviours. The plight of young children during the time of the Industrial Revolution is well documented as are the stories of those courageous men and women who worked tirelessly to better the conditions and give hope to those children in dire straits. I wonder what historians in the centuries ahead will say about our generation.

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      • The plight of children of today is as challenging as ever. The changes in our society and the way we live our lives has generated new forms of exploitation and abuse. In our highly materialistic society, adult values and behaviour are introduced to children at an increasingly early age, long before they are developmentally ready to deal with them. We spend immense time and effort to meet their material obsession. Experiences in children’s daily lives have profound effects on their development. With an upsurge in their mistreatment and effects of a soiled contemporary culture, a continued series of creative child welfare initiatives have to be pursued to help them grow into confident balanced young minds and personalities. Rebecca, the concern expressed by you with your post is very significant.

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      • Thank you Joseph, for your profound comments. I agree, we must nurture confident children, with balanced minds and personalities. And we must lead by example! One of favourite quotes is by Kurt Vonnegut:

        “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

        This reality cannot be realized if we do not support and encourage the next generation. And when the time comes, we must step aside and allow them to take their place on the world stage. I will be happy to applaud from the sidelines.

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    • I am finding that my reader is missing posts as well. 😦 Thank you for taking the time to find the post and made comment. I agree – it is nice to know that there was an industrialist who cared about the lives of his employees. In my opinion, a workforce is the greatest asset of any business. Wealth is increased, not diminished, when there is genuine concern and support for employees. It takes a remarkable individual to see human potential. Adam Smith said it best:

      “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”
      Adam Smith

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    • I can’t imagine a more unusual question to ask. I understand that Robert Owen had strong opinions regarding religion. It seems that he had the last word!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 I have yet to visit the Lanark Mills – it is on my bucket list. Doesn’t it look spectacular. I try to imagine what it was like when it was a thriving business. Time moves on – what we think will exist forever, transitions to something new.

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  1. I enjoyed the video. Everything so orderly and clean. A true visionary ahead of his time. What would our world have been without individual contributors who were ahead of their time. Interesting post. Thank you. I always enjoy the subjects you choose. ❤ ❤

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    • Thank you for adding to the dialogue. Isn’t it interesting that it is easy to recognize genius when we look back, but more difficult when we apply the same thought process to our timeline. Think of how much has happened in the past decade alone. I would never have considered the possibility of blogging and connecting with others via social media 10 years ago. Yet, here we are exchanging ideas and learning from each other. Your visits are very much appreciated.

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  2. How can we but love Robert Owen. He said great things about women–his prophesy came true. He was truly a man before his time. Great video, thank you. I’m looking forward to more of your posts regarding this subject.

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    • He truly was a many before his time, Ms Frances – some of his ideas did end in what we would consider “failure” but he started something entirely different and believed in the possibility of success. What I especially like is that he used his fortune to support his belief in a more equitable society. Stay tuned, more stories are coming! 🙂

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  3. Thank you very much, Rebecca, for having presented to Robert Owen to me and his very important convictions such as:”If people cared about each other it would generate extraordinary outcomes for society”. I had also to smile a little bit about the subject which is in relation to “The importance of interaction” I have just written about. Adam Smith said, for example: It is human nature to exchange not only goods but also ideas, assistance and favours out of sympathy. It is these exchanges that guide men to create solutions for the good of the community. Very best regards Martina

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    • You always give me something to think about, my dear Martina!!! Dear Adam Smith – where would economists be today if they didn’t have his shoulders upon which to stand. Robert Owen and and Adam Smith lived during a time of ideas! May we continue to exchange ideas and seek knowledge. Let us “create solutions for the good of the community.”

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  4. Herzlichen Dank Rebecca für dieses interessante Portrait über Robert Owen. Schon damals waren es die Aussenseiter, Querdenker und Intellektuelle, die Verbesserungen jeglicher Art anregten oder verlangten. Liebe Grüsse Ernst

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    • Genau! Wenn wir zurückblicken und sehen, die großen Dinge, die erreicht haben, gibt es Hoffnung, unsere Generation, die, was wir tun Dinge. Kreativität und Ideen – wir müssen auf der Vergangenheit aufbauen und für zukünftige Generationen. Danke, mein Freund, für Ihre Kommentare und Einsicht.

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    • I agree!!! New ideas, especially those that defy the status quo, may take more than a lifetime to be accepted and embraced. How many centuries did it take for us to believe that the earth was round? Pythagoras waited for centuries until Aristotle championed his idea. What I like most about “looking back” is finding courageous people who shared their creativity. Resilience! We do stand on the shoulders of giants. Thanks so much for your visit.

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  5. Robert Owen may have passed away in 1858, but the world in 2015 needs many a more “Robert Owen”
    When the big garment factory fire disaster happened in Bangladesh, I signed an AVAAZ petition asking the BIG BRAND corporations to improve things, and until they agreed in writing I would boycott their stores and products.
    We were kept abreast of who signed on & who held out. I seem to remember the European companies (Zara… H&M) signing on immediately. Some N. American companies held out the longest.(Gap, Banana, Old Navy & Joe Fresh) … as I remember. Truly, I wonder how it is now.
    Thank you for this post, which has not only historical value, but tremendous social value.
    Cheers to you, Rebecca!

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    • I hadn’t heard about this story before I started my mini-research project into the Industrial Revolution. Robert Owen reminds me that seeing things a different way lead to some interesting outcomes. 🙂

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  6. Regardless of the minister’s opinion, Robert realized that he had lived his life well and his endeavors had not been useless. The minister was completely wrong. Robert’s ‘fruitless projects’ were not a waste of time–he helped so many people!

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    • I agree wholeheartedly, Mary. Robert Owen was so certain of his path, so certain that his ideas were sound, even noble, that he didn’t question his life’s work. Most (and I include myself) would have had second thoughts or regrets if someone marginalized our ideas, especially if that person(s) was respected. It is no easy task to be an outlier, but hearing about other outliers gives new reasons for continuing. Thank you so much for your comments.

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