Most of us have encountered the “normality” question in some shape or form at some point in our lives. Perhaps, it was to do with not being normal enough, perhaps it was around wanting to be different. Some strive towards normality, others strive to avoid it. But, is there a point in either adhering to the norm or being contrarian for the sake of it? What is normality? Is it something to be celebrated or avoided?
Normality doesn’t really exist
Normality is about fulfilling some expectation of what is usual or typical. But, who decides what is ‘normal’, when it comes into being and for how long it lasts? The reality is that, objectively, normality does not really exist. And, if it does exist, it is a kind of illusion. An illusion because undeniably somethings are more typical than others, but that typicality very much depends on the society and time horizon in question.
Eighties hair was normal..well in the eighties. And, women not having the right to vote was normal in the 19th century. Today, both of these would probably be met with a degree of disbelief. So, normality is transient, and this is why phrases like the “new normal” exist.
Missing the point
Anthropological research tells us that human beings have not had a ‘natural’ way of life for 30,000 years. What we have had are simply a series of cultural choices around how we live and organise ourselves. And, these have constantly evolved over time. So, by focusing on what is normal today, we are somewhat missing the point. We are failing to recognise our inherent adaptability, creativity and ability to change.
Certain ways of doing things may have been useful or relevant at certain points in history, but not any more. And, certain ways of doing things that have been terrible, may have stuck for generations for myriad reasons.
The real questions we have to ask ourselves in all of this are:
How can we live with fulfilment, beyond limiting ideas of what ‘normal’ is?
How can we make the best of ourselves and each other?
What choices and changes are we willing to make?
The human mind takes comfort in familiarity. And, things that are familiar become more expected, more normal. Yet familiarity and comfort are not the same as fulfilment and contentment. And, each one of us will travel our own unique path in finding contentment. It is a choice we have to each consciously make, however.
It is not about either adhering to or rejecting normality, rather it is about looking within and consciously deciding to live with meaning. Whether the consequence of that is the illusion of being normal or otherwise, is secondary.
Wherever you are in your life, remember that what is normal today may not be normal tomorrow. Remember that what is normal for you may not be so for another. Remember that you do not need to be limited by arbitrary ideas of normality. We are beyond that as a species.
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What an excellent article Harsha! So many of us are locked in a love/hate relationship with “normality” – when as you say a) it is a subjective opinion and b) it is transitory and there have been countless benchmarks of normality throughout history.
In addition, as I do a lot of inter-cultural coaching, “normality” in one culture can be light years away from “normality” in another culture!
This is a really interesting subject to explore.
Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences, Pamina. I always appreciate seeing different cultures – they tend to be good reminders of just how flexible human beings can be in how we choose to live.