Being Normal

I’m writing this on Christmas Day, 2023. It’s a Monday, and I usually prepare my blogs on Mondays. After reviewing several research reports on different aspects of sustainability, D suggested I do something that feels more “Christmas-like” positive. Here’s a paper I recently wrote that wonders why people aren’t adapting to healthier, less expensive sustainable living more quickly.  It’s a bit longer than my usual blogs, but I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

Being Normal

 

One evening … on a camping trip, my wife said that the next day we might drive 30 miles, turn left turn Highway 213, drive 20 miles, and we’d find a great campground on the left.  However, my oldest son, not yet two, said we’d have to drive 47 miles, turn right on Highway 315, then drive 31 more miles and the campground would be on the right.

We looked at our map.  He was right!

We discovered he had a photographic memory. As much of our education system keys to memory – comprehension and retention of lectures and readings – he almost effortlessly earned straight A’s throughout K-12 school. He graduated Summa cum Laude in three years from an Ivy League school, and got an MBA with honors from a graduate school … all before he was 22.

However … at age 16 or so, our relationship – which was everything I could hope for as a father – severely soured. One evening, I shared my discomfort in our current relationship, and asked to sit down with him and listen, to see if I could understand what the problem was.  His opening statement:

“You’re not normal!”

I asked for examples, to help me better understand the problem.

“My friends and their families all have dinner around 5:30, with a 5-course meal, that includes meat, that their mother prepares. You and (my wife) Trina have supper at 5:30 or 6:30 or 8:30. And you eat no meat.  That’s not normal. 

“My friends and their families take week-long summer vacations at a nearby ocean beach, or go to Florida. You and Trina go to China or Tibet or Lapland or Jordan or Madagascar or Russia or New Zealand or Antarctica, or the North Pole … and you do it at varying times of the year. That’s not normal.”

 

While it’s easy to laugh and dismiss his statements as “typical teenager stuff,” I failed to explore the word “normal” with him.

Why was being normal so important to him?

And what does this have to do with my goal of

causing widespread change to Sustainable Living?

 

I wonder why people are so slow to adapt their lifestyle to live more sustainably, when it’s proving to be healthier, more joyful, and less expensive.  Here are excerpts … quotes aimed at explaining why we’re so slow to adapt.

 

What’s so great about being normal?

When we are “normal” we don’t have to worry about drawing attention to ourselves. That way, we don’t run the risk of looking silly, foolish or incompetent. Without trying new things, we’re more likely to maintain the appearance of doing a good job in life — good enough, that is.

 

Why do people want to be normal?

When people want to be normal, they often want a discrimination-free life. They want the same job opportunities as everyone. They want to be able to enjoy the same hobbies and past times as everyone. They just don’t want to be mocked, ridiculed or bullied for who they are.

 

What is being normal in society?

Normal can be a synonym for typical, average, expected. It often has moral overtones: what is right, healthy, appropriate. Deciding who or what is normal also involves power: people and groups in powerful positions determine who and what is typical, appropriate, acceptable.

 

What psychology says about a normal person?

Normality is a behavior that can be normal for an individual when it’s consistent with the most common behavior for that person. Normal is also used to describe individual behavior that conforms to the most common behavior in society (known as conformity).

 

Is it good to be a normal person?

Being a normal makes it easy to relate to other normal people. We laugh at and often scoff at abnormals/weirdos. We laugh even harder at the otherwise normals who are so desperate to be special that they have to make up special things about themselves to “stand out”.

 

In Defense of Normal 

We underrate the value of normal. We think normal means dull, average, or mediocre. Normal is unimaginative. Normal is being like everybody else. Ads promise to save us from the tragedy of being normal. “Don’t be like them,” they say. “Be like you.”

At school and in our careers, we work hard to distinguish ourselves. We strive to be star performers and standouts. We want to get the part, land the promotion, fulfill our destinies. Separate from the normal pack. But a strange thing happens in life …

The further we go, the more welcome normal becomes. For many, it starts with having a family. When our lives are changed by the unknown of new life, normal becomes what we want most. A normal pregnancy. Normal child development. Family challenges that fall within the bounds of normal.

Normal means safety. Normal means others have been here before. Normal means we’re not the only one. A sense of normal is helpful for abnormal, too.

 

What is it like to be normal or be considered normal?

Normality does not exist. We’re all abnormal. It is a ruse played out on a grand stage. Why do you think all these people have mental health issues, and reality TV, and absurd nonsense in their lives? Why are we asking these questions? Because we pretend just to fit in and then go home wishing we were different instead of loving ourselves in spite of what others think. 

You’re special and wonderful as you are, as I am, as we all are. We just need an open mind to understand that, and to be okay with being different.

 

Relating back to my son’s behavior …

Having a photographic memory isn’t normal. But it’s amazing!

It made gaining a great education easier. He surpassed anything I ever did in school. As a parent, I couldn’t have asked for more.

 

Next …

What are some counter-arguments to being normal?

People usually want to be accepted. For many, this means fitting in with the crowd. In order to do that, you may feel pressure to think and behave a certain way. The trouble is that when you try so hard to be what someone else considers normal, you may lose a part of yourself in the process.

Here are seven reasons to stop trying to be normal and just be yourself:

 

1. NORMAL MAY MEAN PLAYING IT SAFE

It takes courage to stand out from the crowd and follow your own path. It’s easier to do what everyone else is doing, but not nearly as fulfilling.

It can take a lot of energy to try to be normal. And you may inadvertently be giving up some of your own strength. You can empower yourself by choosing to honor your authenticity and staying true to who you are.

Either choose to possibly be limited by normality concepts or to free yourself and live your life in a way that feels natural to you. You may never know what you can achieve until you try. So, rather than trying to be normal, use that energy to discover your own unique potential.

 

2. NORMAL IS A SUBJECTIVE IDEAL

The concept of normality is more of a subjective opinion than an objective reality. Each culture develops its own consensus of what is normal.

There’s no cookie cutter definition of how a human should behave. The idea that there is an ideal standard all humans should conform to is unrealistic and can be psychologically limiting. All you can do is trust in yourself, honor your values, and do what makes you  happy.

 

3. NORMAL IS NOT EASILY DEFINED

Defining abnormal is often easier than normal. There is no clear definition of normal. It is only when someone deviates from what is generally conceived as ordinary that people become concerned with such labels.

 

4. PERFECTION DOES NOT EXIST

Often, when people are trying to be normal, what they’re really trying to achieve is perfection. Perfection is unattainable; if you strive for it, you may end up focusing too much on perceived flaws and not enough on strengths. Humans aren’t perfect. Mistakes happen; that’s how we learn. Choose to find the beauty in the imperfections. If everything was already perfect, there wouldn’t be any room for growth.

 

5. PEOPLE MAY MISS OUT ON YOUR UNIQUENESS

You may be giving up your  personal identity if you identify as normal.  We all have differences. Embrace yours, and respect those of others.

 

Everyone possesses unique characteristics and

qualities. When you deny yourself the right to be

uniquely you, the entire world could be missing out.

 

Imagine how boring life would be if everyone was the same. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor: be yourself and be proud of who you are.

Emphasizing the outcome and seeking external acceptance is not likely to help you feel fulfilled. You’re more likely to find happiness via self-acceptance. Stop trying to get others to love you; simply love yourself.

 

6. LABELS ARE FOR SOUP CANS, NOT PEOPLE

Labels are useful for some things, but often don’t fit the messy world of human emotions and personality traits. People are not easily categorized. Perhaps this is for the best. Human life is too organic to be rigidly classified. Normal might be more of an abstraction than a human experience.

 

7. NORMAL MAY NOT CHANGE THE WORLD

Normal implies conforming to a preconceived standard, which can limit your potential. You’ll never achieve the extraordinary as long you remain ordinary. Normal doesn’t mean stretching limits. Normal doesn’t mean thinking outside the box. Normal doesn’t mean achieving greatness.

Individualism boosts self-confidence, promotes individual excellence and enhances creativity, but it may also lead to resistance to #change.

 

Next …

I sometimes find great lessons woven into a movie …

One perspective related to advantages and disadvantages of being “normal” – and is directly relevant to how we need Sustainable Living to be normal – was the core of the movie, “The Imitation Game.” A few ending quotes …


Alan Turing
to Joan Clarke:

You got what you wanted. A husband, a job… a normal life.”

 

Joan Clarke:

“No one normal could have done that. Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal, I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”

 

Alan Turing:

“You really think that?”

 

Joan Clarke:

“I think that sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things no one can imagine.”

 

Well …

If “normal” helps gain acceptance, which my teenage son was likely seeking, history shows that Turing – who broke the German Enigma encryption system, began computers, and was also gay – did not gain widespread social acceptance. Neither did Nikola Tesla, whose inventions lie at the heart of wireless communication and our modern lifestyle. Vincent van Gogh, as depicted in “Lust for Life,” had a tortured life experience, and his brother could only sell one of his paintings. But he began a new era of artistic expression.

This pattern of the creation and diffusion of new ideas, expressions, or technologies were begun by people who – despite their lack of widespread personal social acceptance – followed their special expertise and led amazing, positive changes that have benefitted our world and the everyone in it.

Today, another consideration impacts this evolutionary process … time.

We know, as fact, our current lifestyle causes a climate change that hurts food production. And when a nation can’t feed its people, they migrate elsewhere to get food. A nation needing food buys it or takes it; wars break out.

We’re also experiencing forest fires and heat waves that threaten our ability to survive. Global anxiety is leading an increasing number of nations to elect “strong leader” types who can, like Mighty Mouse, “save the day.” Autocracies are replacing democracies. But … the autocrats haven’t solved the problem.

One of the placards in a climate protest march said …

 

“The greatest threat to our planet is the

belief that someone else will save it.”

 

Well, each of us will have to be the “someone else.” Our “normal” lifestyle must change. Fortunately, we already have proven technology that’s not only free of fossil fuel problems, but is also less expensive.  The problem:

Being normal helps social acceptance, which is comforting. But – it’s causing us, like sheep, to follow a path that could lead to the slaughterhouse.

We must summon up the courage to do what is not (yet) normal, but will restore our planet’s health, our food supply, and a more comfortable climate.  If you need a new car, you must buy one that’s completely electric.  If you need a new home, you must buy one that’s powers your home and car with the sun … and sends you no invoice.

Just as it took each of us to cause supermarkets to stock an array of organic – and now, gluten-free – foods, it’ll take each of us to demand cars and homes that are (1) in 100% (i.e. net zero) harmony with Earth and (2) give us an even better quality-of-life experience … for the same or less money.

If they don’t do that, shop elsewhere.

 

Finishing these thoughts …

I agree with my son; I’m not normal. I don’t have anything near the incredible abilities of Turing or Tesla or Van Gogh. I don’t even have my son’s photographic memory.  But for some reason I don’t totally understand, I’ve always followed the saying … “Ya pays yer nickel and ya takes yer chances.”

It’s led me to enjoy incredible far-off environments in all seven continents. It’s enabled me to experience what driving an electric car and living in a solar home is like. I’m now living in the most beautiful home in which I’ve ever lived. It cost about the same as a traditional 3-bedroom, 2-bath home but … with greater beauty, healthier air quality and our only utility bill is Verizon.

Proven technology already exists. Monthly living costs are a lot less. Social security checks easily to pay for everything. As the saying goes, “What’s not to like?” No sacrifice is needed; it’s far better living for less. But … it’s up to each of us.

Sustainable Living must become a “new normal” for all our sakes, and soon.

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