Is it normal to be normal?

When I was [much] younger – maybe until my early 20s – I thought that there was something very wrong with the world. It was something that I thought that I might have been able to fix, if I were to be persuasive and influential enough. As it turned out, I never did fix the “problem”, but came to realize that it was not an issue after all. In fact, what I had seen as a problem, was really a good thing.

My issue was that there were many people who did not think like me …

My younger self was very disturbed by people who had “odd” ideas. Sometimes their actions appeared irrational – they would achieve something by means of a very roundabout route. At least that was the way it seemed. There were so many things that I felt were either clearly right or wrong. This might be politics, religion, moral standards, taste in food, art or whatever – and so it goes on. I had a very clear idea of what was “normal”.

In more recent years, I have come to understand that everyone has their own, personal “normal”. That diversity is a really positive thing, which contributes to the strength and vibrancy of our culture. I now accept – no, embrace – this concept. But now I have another issue: do we each define our own normal or are we influenced by others?

Clearly we are all influenced, at least to some extent, by those around us. A simple example is clothes fashion. Some fashions make sense. I wear denim jeans most of the time. They are [somewhat] fashionable [although I probably do not have this week's "cut"], but they are also very practical. Other fashions are very impractical. Nobody can persuade me that shoes that make your feet hurt, or high heels, or platforms are remotely practical [or even attractive]. I am always amused by seeing boys wearing knee-length, baggy shorts for swimming, which make no sense at all. [I am aware that this is an American fashion which has influenced youth over here. I take a more European approach myself.]

This may all seem very light-hearted and, indeed, clothes fashion is just that, but there are two aspects of being normal that worry me a lot. First is body image. So many people [predominantly, but not exclusively girls] feel that they are “abnormal” because they are not the idealized shape that they see on TV and in magazines. In most cases, this just results in harmless teenage angst; but, in others, it leads to eating disorders, depression and self-harm. The current trend for all the media to present an almost impossible “ideal” body image, and then sexualize it, is causing so much unhappiness.

But it gets worse. In 1930s Germany it was fashionable [and I apologize for using such a trite word for such a serious subject] to hate Jews. It became “normal” to discriminate against people and abuse them just because they were Jewish. It was not normal any more then than it is now. Such attitudes come from people accepting society’s idea of what is normal, instead of defining their own.

So, here is the challenge. Strand back and think about how you lead your life, what you do and what attitudes you hold. Consider what is normal for you. Is it actually how you feel or are you simply going with the flow and accepting what society tells you is normal? Most people think that being normal is essentially being like everyone about them. I would suggest that this is abnormal – you can do better than that.

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Posted March 20th, 2014, by

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This blog is a discussion of embedded software matters - news, comment, technical issues and ideas, along with other passing thoughts about anything that happens to be on my mind. The Colin Walls Blog

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Commented on 21 March 2014 at 11:27
By Peter Bushell

@Colin: “Most people think that being normal is essentially being like everyone about them. I would suggest that this is abnormal – you can do better than that.”

How do you define a normal person except by some kind of comparison with others? The only thing open to interpretation is which percentiles you regard as the boundaries between normality and abnormality.

I am reminded of this exchange in “The Life of Brian”:

Brian: “You’re all individuals!”
Crowd: “We’re all individuals!”
Member of crowd:”I’m not!”

Commented on 22 March 2014 at 09:59
By Colin Walls

Peter: Yes, part of my point is there is not really any such thing as “normal”. Nice quote – I’d forgotten that.

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