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.