Distinct individuals

By Jesse Sowole. Jesse, 23, is from Lagos, Nigeria. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“Nobody Realizes That Some People Expend Tremendous Energy Merely To Be Normal” – Camus.

The above phrase is by Albert Camus, a French philosopher in the 20th Century (1913 – 1960), extracted from Notebook IV in Notebooks: 1942 – 1951.

My Initial Impression

My initial impression of the phrase is that it is an allegation or claim on behalf of “some people” in the case of them expending tremendous energy merely to be normal. Which begs the question, if it’s true, that “nobody realizes the case of some people”, and also questions who is “some people”? And how would we measure the amount of energy expended? Finally in question is “merely to be normal”.

But First A Story

When I was much younger I used to wonder about the “many” and the “few”, the “usual” and the “unusual”; though concerning “unusual”, I was taught about the “bad types” and the “good types”. The “good unusual type” I was told was preferable to the “bad unusual type” and even the “usual type”. So I wondered what would make my peace, if I were to belong to the “many”, or be “usual” or be of the “bad unusual type”. But then I wrestled for years, fought conformity, even bore prejudice for the word “normal”. I remember, high on hubris, I once tweeted “I swear down, if I woke up one morning and found out that I was normal, I would just die”. But I have now repented: so what made my peace?

…Some People Expend Tremendous Energy…

Though the initial appearing word is “nobody”, I think it is necessary to first understand “some people”.

First if the class “some people” find themselves expending tremendous energy merely to be normal, I think it is safe to say this class of people is “not normal” to begin with, because if they were, then they wouldn’t need to try to be “normal”. This isn’t to say that all who are “not normal” are within the class of this “some people”, because we can’t overlook those who are “not normal” but aren’t trying to be “normal”.

Having said that, one may argue that the class of “some people” refers to just those who are “not normal” and in trying to be “expend tremendous energy”, which would then exclude the set of people who are “not normal” but don’t “expend tremendous energy”. I wonder about the amount of energy expended, seeing as it cannot be measured to determine how tremendous. My point is that the tremendousness or not of the energy expended is a thing of perspective, especially from the point of view of whoever is expending it. We can’t ignore personal experience and perspectives; as the saying goes, “the one who wears the shoe knows where and how much it pinches”.

Next, I think we should highlight what makes someone be categorized as “not normal”. Among such characteristics may include those with physical, psychological, mental or behavioral anomalies or differences, others by nature or predisposition, and others by lifestyle, beliefs, pattern of thought amongst others.

As regards expending energy, I think the keyword here is conformity. Conformity is defined by dictionary.com as “the action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc.” so, for anyone trying to conform, it would be an expense of energy, as conforming requires additions or subtractions from oneself, and in most cases both.

“Nobody Realizes…

Getting to “nobody realizes…” First, in expository terms, Camus’ words speak of a group of people of whom “no one realizes the case of some people expending tremendous energy…”

This group of people subsequently referred to as “other people”, we could safely express as all those outside the class of “some people”, which would be all of those you’d consider “normal” and those you’d consider “not normal” but aren’t trying to conform.

Now addressing “nobody realizes…” which taken literally would mean no one amongst the “other people” realizes the case of “some people” and going by that, we would hence find the phrase with the fault of generalization. I believe that Camus’ use of “nobody” was figurative; a hyperbole to emphasize the prominent disposition of “other people” which I then do not dispute.

Next, is the arising question of why “some people” would feel the need to conform to “normal”? Taking a cue from a former classmate of mine who stammered and over time preferred to speak less due to the verbal abuse he sometimes got when he spoke, I think a major reason why someone who is “not normal” would feel the need to appear seemingly “normal” would be to escape different forms of prejudice, discrimination, bias and so on which are actually brought on majorly by those within the group “other people”.

So, Camus claimed “nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy…”, and from the figurative angle, I think it is well made, more so as “other people” bear some responsibility for “some people” having the need to conform.

…Merely To Be Normal”

Seeing it’s a matter of conformity, I think it’s safe to regard Camus’ use of “normal” within the social context. Simplistically, “normal” is synonymous with “majority”, it is defined by the majorly shared characteristics amongst a given set of people and to be categorized as normal, one would have to be like “most people”. But also, “normal” may be synonymous with how someone is expected to be, which may be influenced by any of religion, culture, tradition or even constitutional law depending on the context.

Furthermore, I think within this context, “normal” should be taken as a category rather than a state of being, because “normal” is a matter of similarity and not sameness, so to be “normal” is to equate someone to those majorly shared characteristics which aren’t definitive of everyone within the group, because though everyone within the group is similar, they all still differ, even if ever so slightly. So though one can be categorized as normal, no one is normal.

Basically, “normal” and“not normal” are both categorizations, and they can’t define what a person is, I think the problem is that sometimes “normal” is over-preached and only “normal” is accommodated and tolerated in some given societies. Some views may be so strict that whatever is “not normal” is “wrong”.

So What Do I Think

I think we’ve gotten too carried away with categorizations. We now struggle to behold the individuality of our beings; yes, we belong to a race, class, society etc., but all these stem first from the existence of the unit level, the individual. That’s not to oppose categorizations because sometimes, in some ways they are of necessity, but we’ve come to overlook what makes up the whole. Some are willing to discriminate against a minority because they fit into the majority, but that is ignoring the individual contributions that make up a class. Even if those within a class differ slightly enough to still belong to that class, they still differ and people never even belong to the same sets or set of sets.

If we all realize and look beyond the categorizations which make it easier for us to ignore that they are made up of actual persons, we’ll realize that on an individual level, it is a matter of respect, especially when it comes to not victimizing people for who, what and how they are. It is a matter of respect, seeing as we are all individuals on the unit level and being of the many or few, of the usual or unusual: these are all categories and do not erase the individualities nor distinctions of our beings.

And what do I propose

Now if I propose that everyone should respect one another, I don’t think it would do enough. It is part of what humans are, we tend towards categorizations. So walking with that nature, what I’m proposing isn’t anything new but already exists, I’m just reiterating.

I’m reiterating that those within “some people” find and belong to communities or groups which may also be virtual with themes that umbrella their “differences”. Groups that foster intra relationships and inter relations as well, bring awareness to other groups of majorities and even minorities. Groups where one can be accepted and understood having others who share similar experiences and though this may not work for all, I do think it would work for most.

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