To Be Normal Or Not?

by Shadrach Udobi. Shadrach is from Lagos, Nigeria and is a pianist and writer. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“Alright boy, wear a smile and be a good kid.”

That was what my mom said to me as she dropped me off at school one day. It may seem like a simple instruction, but the ambiguity embedded in her statement only ended up creating confusion in my young head. I thought about what she meant by being a good kid.

In a fast changing society like ours, where there are many rules, most of which were created by people we may never come to know, an average human is faced with a challenge. A challenge to be like others. A challenge to be normal. A question quickly surfaces. What does it mean to be normal? When my mother told me to be a good kid, I knew what she meant. I had broken some of the school’s laboratory equipment the previous week whilst experimenting with something I read in a science textbook. I was to be a good kid by being normal. And by being normal, I was not to be too curious. I must say that in that sense, I struggled to be normal.

However, there are more serious issues to be addressed than a kid fiddling with laboratory equipment. In the 21st century, wherein words and their meaning have changed over the years, and the technological advancement has shaped our world into a global village, certain principles and standards that were once upheld crumble right before our eyes. Take for example, the surge of feminism in recent years. Previously, it was normal for a lady not to express her opinions. She was the weaker vessel. Precisely, she was the weakling. Men had little or no respect for the opinions of women. As a matter of fact religion was, and still is, one major perpetrators of male dominance in society. Imagine a lady back in the 16th century who has a brilliant idea that could change her life and probably the whole world. But she suppresses her thoughts and keeps her idea to herself. Who is she anyway? She is just a woman and normal women are not meant to speak out. African traditions were stricter. Girls were not sent to school. They were to only help in their parents’ trade, get married to a man and spend the rest of their lives in the kitchen. A lady was seen as nothing more than a cook and a baby manufacturer. A woman who tries to be more than these is deemed abnormal, worse still, a curse. Although, male dominance is still prevalent in many parts of the world, a whole lot has changed. Now the term ‘normal’ has been redefined. A woman who does not express her thoughts is seen as abnormal.

Normality, really, is a vague concept. It can only be defined by the standard of living and traditions of an environment in which one finds oneself. I remember some time ago when I told a friend that I would like to be a billionaire, he remarked, “isn’t that too much to ask?” A young lad once sees an aeroplane and wishes to be a pilot. But he is laughed at by friends and hushed by elders because it’s a dream too big. He tries to be normal. He thinks only of owning a barn and if lucky, a farm. In an environment that is ravaged by poverty, hunger and mediocrity, excellence is abnormality. So in  an environment that is defined by opulence, mediocrity is the abnormality.

The struggle to be normal ranges from one individual to another and from one culture to another. Around the globe, there are diversities of culture and an alien who doesn’t fit into the culture of a society is deemed not normal, strange. One who travels a lot will readily assert the energy exerted merely to be normal and accepted by the people around. In many African tribes for example, it is wrong to look at an elderly person in the eyes. Such acts are considered a sign of disrespect. Hence my amazement when I got to a new place and I was told that not looking into the eyes of an elderly person is a sign of fear and lack of confidence. Another example is calling an elderly person by their first name. I have never called my father by his first name. You can guess my shock when I found out that in other parts of the world, it was normal.

The numerous expectations of society have made some people run mad, literally. In a bid to be normal, the psychological and physiological make up of many people have been tampered with, and in worse cases, permanently damaged. In the eyes of society, a man who is seen crying is called a sissy, because men are not meant to cry. I suppose their tear glands are simply for decoration. Some traditional societies also tell us that women are not meant to verbalize their sexual desires, a lady who admits she sometimes gets libidinous is reckoned a slut.

What then is the result?

The slow and gradual loss of one’s distinctive qualities. Perhaps, this is a leading cause of depression. You see, nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal, merely to be socially accepted. Or what does one make of the man who is deeply hurt but puts on a facade just so he can look like the alpha male he is supposed to be? Or what does one make of the lady who conceals her sexual desires just so she won’t be labelled a harlot? Depression and in other cases, hypocrisy is what the struggle to be normal breeds. It is no surprise then, that many are nothing but a reflection of society’s opinions.

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