The myth of normality

Many humans are very attached to the ideas that ‘normal people’ exist and that they personally count as normal people. It’s why so many people get upset and angry when faced with any language that defines them as other than normal. The very existence of language to define people who are other than normal can seem threatening to some, and they tend to push back against it and demand to know why we need all these terms.

The short answer is that if the language is normal/abnormal that means a lot of us are labeled as being wrong. The idea that there are normal people and other people is toxic in so many ways. It enables bullying, promotes misconceptions, reduces compassion… and so we need language that addresses this more effectively.

At the same time, I think the idea of normal – and the assumed attractiveness of it – could use some scrutiny.

Diversity is a good evolutionary strategy. The more samey a species is, the less resilient it’s going to be to change. One of the things that has got humans to where we are now is that we are varied and adaptable. Our diversity is a strength and it’s about time we started treating it as such. Variety creates interest and opportunity. If we were all ‘normal’ we’d be much more predictable and would soon be bored witless by each other. Difference feeds creativity and innovation, it opens us to different perspectives and ideas.

There are some rewards for fitting in neatly, being a good little cog in the machine and not attracting attention in any way. There are advantages to having people who just want to live how they are told to live, want to do what they are told to do and for whom conformity is comfortable. The desire to be normal is painfully easy to exploit. The people who exploit it are the ones who consider themselves to be better and entitled to more than average. One of the things our traditional ideas of normality supports is the idea that there are a small number of people – be they kings or billionaires – who deserve more than normal people get, and who should be allowed to control the lives of the normal people.

The idea of normality plugs us neatly into feudal systems and capitalism alike. The desire to be normal can have us suppressing parts of who we are, or afraid about the aspects of ourselves that might make us different. Clinging to normality, we can feel threatened by anything that undermines the idea that normal exists and naturally dominates. All those genders and different ways of thinking and being… must be wrong if normality is normal.

It seems to me that what we mean by normal is often bland, unoriginal, unthinking, uncreative, easily led and increasingly persuaded to fear and hate others. It’s a construct, more often than not, and one designed to control us. When we have room for diversity and difference, we don’t have to be afraid of ourselves and we’re not so readily persuaded to be afraid of other people. Ideas of normality can feed unkindness and don’t reliably bring out the best in people. We’re kinder when we’re not so hung up on what’s normal and what isn’t. We’re kinder to each other, and kinder to ourselves.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “The myth of normality

  • alainafae

    I think the main draw of normality is the sense of belonging to a, supposedly, very large group. It ties to the safety in numbers survival strategy, which our species in shown to benefit highly from, so to threaten one’s normality is akin to threatening survival. Our instinctual needs are a powerful tool for manipulation e.g. the “sex sells” marketing strategy. Critical thinking skills can help restrain knee-jerk reactions when these instincts are triggered, but many have neither the variety of experience nor the desire to examine these reactions, unfortunately.

  • poetthatlikesvellum

    Always, and ever, the outsider conducted my own social experiment in high school, which didn’t give me any better grades; most who think they are normal take great offense when they realize that normal, plain, flat, doesn’t exist, when forced to come to terms with the big lies’ propaganda. People who genuinely have been pushed outside the societal bubble because the ones that think they know what normal is weaponize it against them are excited to acknowledge it doesn’t exist. They will thank you for calling normal into question and reminding the masses.

  • M.A.

    I have never actually met a “normal” person. Get a teensy bit under the surface and everybody’s got a monkey, a kink, a weird patch somewhere. Although I live in California, so maybe there are normal people other places. But I doubt it.

  • Klausbernd

    An interesting topic you are touching here.
    We thought ‘normal’ probably originates in in the mathematical term ‘normal distribution’. But our ethymological dictionary tells us that it comes from ‘norma’ the square or right angle. It seems to us that not before the 19th c. the word was used in a metaphoric sense for people.
    In our surroundings it would be offensive to call somebody ‘normal’. Everybody wants to be special, we suppose. If we look at modern advertisments, every product is extolled as special, extraordinary, exclusive and in any case not as normal.
    If we define ‘normal’ as average it sounds to us very unattractive. When I went to grammar school and university, one kept away from pople you would call normal. Actually, it still for us like this.
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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