I do not like anything about school. My primary and secondary school days were mildly excusable, mostly because when I was there, I had not been able to totally convince myself that finding the value of ‘X’ and battling with quadratic equations were the same as teaching me how to flush our pit toilet a-fter using it: a waste of time. Who flushes a pit latrine? But, who tells his parents that he does not like or want to be in school? Your parents check first if all is well with you, then voice their doubts over your well-being, after they have convinced themselves that the witches from the village have not found their way into your bright future. Almost as if the first twenty elements, atoms and electrovalent bonding and pencil-drawings of tilapia carry lamps for tomorrow. They believe that it is not normal for one to detest school, whatever that means.
This piece will make no effort to follow convention and quote authorities like dictionaries, whilst trying to define the word ‘normal’. It will not define ‘normal’ in the way that is normal. Yet, it is evident that our definitions of what normal is are personal. We all describe something as normal if we have been told that it is so, if we grew up knowing that it is normal in the way that it is normal. If our religion, interests, exposure, education, habits, and inclinations which have been built over time make us to see it as such. African children will normally address their parents as ‘papa’ (father), ‘mama’ (mother), and may marvel or frown at another African child that abnormally calls her/his parents by their names. The writer of this essay will not give in to his desire to present the piece like lines to a rap song, even if he wanted to, because he just might ask himself if it is really normal to do so. This is why ‘normal’ is here defined as what you are used to. To do it the way the dictionaries do it, a second definition is that normal is that which is acceptable. However, just like public opinion, the acceptability of something, that which makes something normal, is determined by numbers. When more or louder voices say that something is normal, it is so. For example, in a country like Nigeria, public opinion is the opinion of the informed and wealthy few, whose voices beat that of the apathetic and impoverished many because wealth and influence have their ways of messing with figures if they are used wrongly. In the same vein, when it comes to the subject of this article, what is normal is what institutions that have been given more and louder voices – the rich, religious leaders, the elderly, the governments, families, traditions- say that it is.
However, something appears to be incongruous with this topic. Can anyone really be ‘merely’ normal? This question is necessary because the world appears to be suddenly filled with people – transgender people, lesbians, gays, atheists – who have been accepting what is ‘normal’ on the surface but experiencing dilemmas and bitterness inside because there is nothing like being ‘merely’ normal. Society’s standards and definitions have come to make being normal tough and full of challenges for these persons that we can rephrase the aphorism to just read: ‘Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy to be normal’. Let us do away with the ‘merely’, for it makes mincemeat of their daily discomforts.
On this note, look at the situation of gays and lesbians in Nigeria. The ‘normal’ view in Nigeria is that sexual relationships between members of the same sex is abominable. In fact, such sexual relationships are illegal in Nigeria, and offenders will spend fourteen years in jail. No one has asked if lesbian/gay sex has any negative impact on Nigeria’s economy. People and the government are so concerned about LGBT people, not because the apocalypse will befall Nigeria earlier than its scheduled date if a man kisses a man, but because to them, it is not ‘normal’.
Women in my society – Nigeria – are expected to be married as soon as everyone feels that they have come of age. This is what is ‘normal’. Another normal thing is that a woman must be wooed by a man. She is not actually supposed to indicate initial interest in a man, or appear to be making the most efforts while a relationship is being initiated. That means that she is cheap, and that is not normal. No one seems to make provisions for one other very normal thing: the scarcity of suitors. Even the recently intensified social media feminist campaigns that have been supported by a lot of people have not done much to change these stifling, normal standards. Another angle to it is that everyone has to finish school, get a job, get married, and bear children. You are not allowed – by normal people – to say: “I don’t want to get married. I cannot cope with it for now. But, I will see how it goes, maybe I will also adopt orphans because they need help”. No. That is not normal, not even when you have a certain, unusual phobia for marriage, official relationships, or childbirth and children. No one cares. Die expending that tremendous energy just to be ‘merely’ normal, or people will make your life miserable by shoving their standards of what is normal in your face.
And why will you expend energy just to fit into their paintings of what is normal? It is because of the innate desire for social recognition or acceptance. This desire of humans to be accepted in the society, to not be snickered and sneered and jeered and booed at is part of the psychological DNA of humankind, a weakness that is often underestimated. Self-righteous and self-serving members of the society exploit this weakness, and threaten to change or withdraw their acceptance and recognition of the person whose ‘normal’ is different from the ‘normal’ of the larger population. Thus, people either bury their proper, normal selves, or live double lives to suit the society. Either ways, tremendous energy is expended.
However, those who allow society to box them into the difficult corner of expending tremendous energy just to be normal are the architects of their own problems. People must begin to give their inner voices better listening ears. And they must all begin to realize that, first, we are all born with different dispositions. This is what education should even help us to do: the discovery, acceptance and the grooming of our personalities to the fullest possible potentials, not the making of dummies who must fit into castes and moulds and louder and general definitions of what is normal. Second, we must realize that our personal causes remain what they are: personal causes. No one will readily be there for you when you choose to begin to decide and define your own normal. Yet, the participation or not of others in the birth and redefinition of your normal does not make their normal any better than yours. And while it is evident that such instruments of intimidation such as threats to life, possible incarceration, as well as discouraging expressions of displeasure directed at us can be powerful, we must realize that the loss of self is death of its kind. If the man who declared that the earth was not round but spherical had caved in to the normal ideas of his era, the world would have worn blinders for longer than it did before people learned of that error. Furthermore, those who do not realize that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal may appear to be ignorant or insensitive as charged because upon closer look, there is this (unconscious) certainty that our individual definitions of what is normal are based on who and what we are. Why, then, would you expend energy on alien normal? Hug your abnormal!