The Illusion of Normal
I just want to be normal.
It is a very nice statement and most people will know exactly what you mean. Except they don’t. I want to be a dragon. It has mostly the same concept and foundation. This is because normal doesn’t exist. Sorry, neither does the dragon. Average might, but average is a purely local phenomena. The error in this way of thinking is that we are looking at ourselves in the negative rather than the positive.
Let us explore normal for a few moments. Normal is defined as an adjective giving the attribute as “conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or as expected”, or a noun naming something as “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” I can talk about a normal 6 mm nut with a 10 mm hex outer using the fine thread pitch made of mild steel that is zinc coated… at this point I haven’t really defined normal anymore. I have defined a specific something, and this nut in my hand is normal to that specific definition.
Let us switch that to apples and go backwards. I am holding a normal apple in my hand. We know it is mostly spherical and has two divots that are opposite to each other. If I put the stem divot at the top, then the flower divot is at the bottom, because this is a normal apple. We know it has seeds in the middle and that if we were to cut the apple in half horizontally to the current orientation it would have 5 cavities for the seeds. Sounds pretty normal so far. What colour is the apple? What colour is the pulp inside it? What species is it? How big is it? What does it taste like? If I specify the type and breed of apple we can now narrow some of these answers down, but some others we can’t. Normal is useless without being very specific.
Abnormal is easier. The nut in my hand has seven sides. That isn’t normal- usually a nut has is 4, 6 or 8 sides, 7 is just crazy. The apple I hold in my hand isn’t spherical, it is more banana shaped, has indigo skin and tastes like an olive. That isn’t normal either.
When we say we want to be normal, we mean to say we want to not seem abnormal. We want to be missed or overlooked. We don’t want to be noticed. Yet we have this idea of what we are supposed to be, and we aren’t it. This notion shifts from person to person. I talk more about that with hair later.
What is a normal human? About half the population of humans are female, another almost half are male and a few percent in the middle are “it’s complicated”. Most people identify as straight. Most people are wrong. Over 70% of people who identified as “straight” upon closer examination admitted that they were technically bisexual, but defaulted to or leaned more towards straight. There was also a percentage that ignored the evidence of their activities and contorted their definition to make them conform to this idea of “straight”. Similarly when we look at male/female/it’s complicated, each one of these is in a minority of some sort, and that “sort” is modified to suit the argument that target group is making at the time. More often than not, it’s complicated have more right to identify as a minority, but what does that really mean?
What colour is the normal human’s skin? The average skin colour is brown, but even then, what shade of brown? And how many humans have that skin colour? Suddenly this gets much harder to answer. We could take every skin pigmentation of every human on Earth (and nearby satellites *nods head to the current humans in space*) and determine what is the mean skin tone. Then we compare that average to the human population and count up how many humans actually have that same skin tone and discover that it is only a small handful. If we increase the tolerance of “same” we might increase it to 1% of the population. That means that 99% of the population has abnormal skin tone. If we increase the tolerance again to 10% of the population, that still means that 90% of the population is abnormal. If we increase the tolerance higher than 10%, how big is the range of skin tones accepted to be “average” and “normal” now?
A friend of mine visited a remote part of Thailand about 30 years ago. She was blond, pale and short. Here in Perth Australia that is. When she went to this village in Thailand, she was freakishly tall, incredible pale and was informed by the local authorities that she needed to have a guard to ensure she wasn’t attacked for her long blond hair. What happened to normal? In Perth she always wished to be “normal sized”, that is, taller. When she was in the village in Thailand, she was considered too tall and her colouration was weird.
Between 150,000 and 80,000 years ago humans as we know them nearly went extinct. A few times. The population of current humans around the world can be traced back to a bottleneck of almost 2,000 humans at some point in this time space and that the human population didn’t really get much bigger than this for quite a while (possibly 100,000 years). All humans on Earth trace their ancestry back to these 2,000 people. This is more complicated than it sounds though, as there might be lines that have died out from humans that were alive at this time, but now ignored because their descendants didn’t make it. The point, though, is that right there we have a small number of original humans to average rather than 7 billion mutated humans. This population of humans lived in sub-Saharan Africa.
The average skin colour of these people would be quite dark brown, the average hair would likely to have been curley and black, and the average eye colour was dark brown. If you don’t have these stats, you are an abnormal freak. A mutant. Abnormal.
Is that fair? I look around my office and dark skin is rare, I consider my friends and again dark skin is rare. So what is normal?
I have conversations with women. I know, it’s odd. But anyway, I recall many a conversation where a lass has stated she is dissatisfied with her hair and wishes for a different amount of curl – more or less – or a different shade/colour, or a longer/shorter style and so on. Basically, whatever she doesn’t have. This is almost always followed by another lass in the conversation stating they love that hair that has so recently been impugned, and wish they had it because it isn’t what they have. I listen to the tails of straighteners, hair dyes and endless hair cuts and stylings.
I don’t really get it.
Anyway, what I do get from this is that each of them is comparing themselves to some model of hair that makes their own hair less than satisfactory. Each of these models is vastly different from one person to the next. Imagine the hair you want, find a person who has that hair and ask them what their ideal hair would be and I estimate a high percentage of respondents will state a different hair type to what they have. They’ve got your ideal, but they think it is wrong.
Women are not the only ones that fall for this trope. I just picked on hair and a couple of conversations I sat around as a bridge to hang a concept off.
The result of this is that each of these people are looking at themselves as wrong when compared to this ideal of hair or other aspect, an ideal that shifts from person to person. My solution is to look at my hair and be satisfied with it. Sure, I’d like a little more hair on my increasing bald spot, but meh. Not enough to do something about it. I look at it as a graceful way to age… *cries in the corner*. No, seriously. It’s good enough and it suits me. Because it is me. If you want to dye your hair, go for it. I hope you enjoy the colour.
When we start to look at ourselves and see the amazing and awesome aspects about ourselves, we begin to define ourselves in the positive. My skin is me coloured, my hair is my hair, my intelligence is at my level, my compassion is me, my means of communication is mine. I like who I am.
About 20 years ago I didn’t like who I was. I recognised that I was doing things that I detested. I treated people badly and I blamed everyone else for so many things. Sometimes I was right, but mostly I wasn’t. Even then, in my self-despair and loathing, I found things to like about myself. I was fit, I was young and full of potential. From this pit of despair, I had three directions to go – up, down or sideways. Up meant improving me, sideways meant eventual meaningless death, down meant more of the same. I put the resources I had (not much at the time) into changing the things I didn’t like about me, and into developing and encouraging the things that I did like.
The point of the above paragraph is that change can be defined as positive. I was growing and becoming. There was a huge temptation to define myself as faulty, as bad, as wrong. Define myself in the negative. I indulged in that for a bit and just dug my pit of despair deeper. On reflection at the time, I realised this just wasn’t helping. Thus I switched strategies to define myself positively.
Do I want to be like everyone else? No. Partly because I can’t work out which everyone else I want to be like, and partly because I don’t want to not be me. What I really wanted was to be a better me, but that started out with acknowledging what was good about me, even the bits I thought were bad at the time. And acknowledging that these aspects can grow and improve. And recognising that that growth doesn’t make the old me faulty and defective. Just young and learning.
Consider your birth. Perhaps for the sake of less awkward, a few days after your birth. The odds are you didn’t talk in any recognisable human language, didn’t ride a bicycle, didn’t walk, didn’t do math and a host of other things that you do now. That you isn’t defective, it is young. It isn’t someone else, it is you, a young and unlearned you. You then learned all (most?) of these things later. If there is an aspect about yourself that you identify now as needing improvement, or having the potential of improvement, that doesn’t make that aspect right now faulty or wrong, just like newly born you wasn’t faulty or wrong. It is just an aspect in potential.
Defining ourselves in the negative, against a fictitious “normal” or an ever changing “average” does defines us as wrong. This leads to despair and never being good enough. Defining ourselves in the positive, as growing people, gives us the ability to love ourselves as we are now while at the same time recognising that we can grow and still be us. I recommend this defining ourselves in the positive strategy. It is more useful.