I’m hearing a lot just recently about people wanting to be ‘normal’ or wanting the ‘right’ to a ‘normal life’ or wanting others to ‘behave like normal people’.
But what is ‘normal’?
Without getting involved in statistical, linguistic or even political discussions ‘normal’ means ‘not deviating from the norm’.
In statistics a normal distribution is the curve created by plotting data values where the (single) most common value – or norm, (or mean) appears as a peak in the middle.
On either side of this value figures ‘deviate’ from the norm as they become lower or higher. Often the numbers are symmetrical, but it’s not always like that.
So are ‘normal’ people all the same height, or weight, or shape, or colour? Of course not, statistics doesn’t help here.
In behavioural terms ‘the norm’ is defined as “an accepted standard of behavior” within a society and ‘normal’ people are those who do not deviate from the norm.
The problem is that the accepted standard changes significantly over the years within a society and is markedly different from one culture to another.
Behaviours that are perfectly acceptable in Eastern cultures are often not in the West, and vice versa – so does that mean the people from other cultures are ‘not normal’?
History has shown this is a common belief and some regimes have taken extreme measures to ‘normalise’ their populations (and those of their neighbours).
So why do so many people want to be ‘normal’ and want everyone else to be ‘normal’?
Very few people (if any) however, want to be ‘average’ – which is very close to normal.
An average is calculated by taking a set of data, adding all the values together and dividing by the number of data points within the set.
Which is how the ‘average’ family at one time turned out to be two parents, 2.4 children, a cat and half a dog.
And then there’s the spurious ‘law of averages’ beloved of sales trainers – the theory being that if you repeat something enough times you’ll always get the same number of positive and negative results.
It goes like this – If 20 people say ‘no’ you’re bound to get a ‘yes’ very soon, so keep making the calls.
But what if you’re doing it wrong?
And often the same people totally contradict themselves by telling us that if you keep doing the same things you’ll always get the same results.
I’ve actually heard both of those statements made in the same speech!
There’s actually no such thing as ‘average’ – it’s never more than just a number, usually a totally meaningless number.
So it makes sense that no-one wants to be average – but that’s not what they mean.
They mean that they want to be ‘better than’ or ‘different from’ average.
But at the same time they want to be ‘normal’
Oh by the way, I’m talking about ‘most people’. You and I are not ‘normal’. If we were I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.
(And if you’ve met me then you’ll know I’m definitely not ‘normal’!)
There’s a lot of pressure put on everyone to be ‘normal’ and it comes from those who aren’t.
‘Normal’ people don’t become politicians or journalists or propagandists.
In the majority of states and cultures it’s believed that the existence and stability of a ‘civilised society’ depends on the majority of people being ‘normal’ – not deviating from the cultural behavioural norms.
Some states, past and present, have had significant success in enforcing this – much to the consternation of their neighbours who don’t see ‘normal’ the same way.
Sometimes this concept of ‘normal’ is interpreted as ‘equal’. The logic is that if everyone is ‘equal’ then all will be normal.
But not many people want to be ‘equal’ with everyone else, most people want something better, or different.
There’s nothing wrong with all people being ‘created equal’ or everyone having ‘equal opportunity’ – we are and we do – although some children aren’t born equal and sometimes the equal opportunities have ‘terms and conditions’.
Most people want to be normal but not average or equal.
The answer lies in redefining ‘normal’.
Instead of a destination – people wanting to become normal and wanting other people to become normal like them – it could be where we start from.
You and I could decide to treat everyone as basically ‘normal’ – we do after all have a huge amount in common with only a few minor differences in physical detail.
You and I and everyone else have different skills and abilities – that’s normal
You and I and everyone else have different interests and beliefs – that’s normal
You and I and everyone else have different knowledge and understanding – that’s normal.
Let’s leave ‘normal’ behind and continue our journey to being different and better than we are now – and help others do the same.
Explain that ‘normal’ is not where they want to go or want others to go. Everyone is already normal – it’s just where we start from.
It’s where we’re going that matters – and that isn’t normal!