Navigating normal

By Rebecca Walker. Rebecca, 24, is a registered mental health nurse and is also currently completing a postgraduate diploma in Systemic Family Practice. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Normal. Six little letters with a differing definition entirely dependent on who you are and where you come from. Am I normal if I fit in or am I normal if I don’t stand out, and does the subtle difference matter anyway? Normal may equal unnoticeable, which to me projects a sense of neither fitting in nor standing out, but purely just being. Normal is unremarkable, normal is everyday, normal suggests an absence of significance.

The desire to be accepted by one’s peers is often overwhelming, but surely to be normal is to purely be yourself and when normality requires the expenditure of tremendous energy it is not really achieved. Is normal a state of mind or is it how an individual presents themselves to the outside world? Can normal be defined on a global scale or is normal defined within communities, within cultures, within families and friendship circles? Can normal be defined across time or does normal change between generations, between eras, between governments, between scientific inventions and new knowledge?

I’m not normal in some contexts but in others I am. Perhaps, for me, transitioning between contexts has taken tremendous energy – going to university where my academic talent and passion for knowledge was normal required strength and resilience, seeking a world away from heteronormativity was hard work. The energy spent to find this “normal” did not require any reinvention on my own behalf but rather a search for a place where MY normal was THE normal. And maybe, just maybe, some people do not have to search to find a place where THEIR normal is THE normal because they were born in the right place at the right time giving them the credibility to publicly condemn the abnormal majority who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And then we move forward to discuss the revolution of the “hipster”; individuals who need to stand out in order to fit in and to be considered normal in the circles in which they move. Circles in which normal is not accepted and quirky is required, to the extent that quirky becomes normal anyway, as they all end up looking the same and behaving the same and “sheeping” just as much as anybody else. Normal people expending tremendous amounts of energy merely to be abnormal. This is by no means a new phenomenon, however each generation gives it a new name because the very essence of the concept would be entirely flawed if it wasn’t modernised and made abnormal at every twist and turn. And what is the causation of this phenomenon? Is normal not expressive enough? Does normal condemn people to a nine-to-five job, a three-bedroom semi in suburbia and two kids plus a dog? Normal suggests boring, normal suggests mundane; and in a world where success is measured by excitement and passion, boring and mundane are best left at the door.

I went to a job interview recently and I was asked “If you were a fruit, which fruit would you be and why?”. I told them that I would be a banana because I’m tough on the outside with a soft interior. I told them that I would be a banana because I am good at getting people going. They told me that my answer was very “normal” and didn’t evidence the type of creative thinking skills that were required for the job. My friend told the interview panel that she would be a kiwi because she didn’t conform to gender stereotypes and her legs were covered in stubble. She told them that she would be a kiwi because she was full of little seeds and when they asked her to expand on that she produced a “mysterious giggle”. They told my friend that they liked her abstract thinking styles and gave her the job.

So, again I ask, what is normal and when did it become so desirable?

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