If anyone asked you to follow ‘The Pied Piper’ over the edge of a clifftop or under an oncoming bus, would you do it? I’m guessing you’d say “no way,” yet how many of us have ever tried a new beer, a coffee or energy drink, a hair product, a so-called ‘super food’ or miraculous diet – because others around us are doing it? Have you ever made a small or large choice in your daily life because it is the normal thing to do? I know I have. And how many of our daily life choices do we actually make because they are “normal” and “everyone does them?”
I ask those questions as I have been asking them of myself recently while I get to know myself more, and understanding just how many of the things I do in life are because they are ‘normal.’ For instance, I may eat snacks during my working day – and everyone around me eats snacks at work, so this is a normal behaviour – yet what if my body actually doesn’t want those snacks? And what if I am actually not hungry but in a habit of doing something because others do it?
What then is ‘normal’? And why is it of interest to us all?
Normal can be seen as conforming, as something that is ‘usual’ or expected. It comes from a Latin word ‘normalis,’ which described something made with a carpenter’s square. Something built this way would be normed to have angles that were perfectly aligned and fit a general pattern. This meaning eventually gave us the broader sense of fitting a pattern, standard, or average. (1)
Normal can also be a habit, something typically done, customary, a routine, a regular occurrence, or an established way of being.
On a bigger scale, societal norms or social norms are “the rules of behaviour that are considered acceptable in a group or society” (2), and whilst norms can provide a sense of order in society, do we take them as ‘normal’ with no further consideration or do we still discern even if something is ‘normal’?
What I observe is that:
- We can do something that is ‘normal’ for fear of reaction from others – or that we may be shunned in some way – yet just because it is normal in that society, does it make it true?
- I may do something that is ‘normal’ because my mum or teacher showed me to do it that way when I was a child, and I’ve never considered whether there was another way.
- Over time ‘norms’ change – and seem to flow with the tide of where the majority are, but how do we discern what becomes the new normal? And in whose interests is this new normal?
- A ‘normal’ for me may be something that did at one time support my body, but what if my body no longer finds it supportive, but I continue to do it as a habit, or just because it is my normal?
And what if I am already doing a new normal for me which is actually supportive, but I have not confirmed for myself that this is the case?
So what are our benchmarks of normal? And when will we look at the world and discern not what is normal, but what is Truth?
Let’s take an example. What if some of what is accepted as ‘normal’ is actually abuse?
When we mention the word abuse we probably use it to describe extremes such as domestic violence, modern day slavery, paedophilia – and yes, they are all abuse – but what if our daily accepted ‘abuses’ (which to us may seem normal, e.g. overriding the need to pee, eating/drinking substances that are toxic to the body, overeating) are subscribing to the current reality that abuse is okay – because it is ‘normal’? And if abuse like this is accepted as okay then is it possible that is why abuse is still able to run riot in our lives to the extreme – because in our basic daily living we accept seemingly small moments of abuse as being normal?
Is it not only in our own best interest, but in all of our interests if we choose to discern ‘normal’ and we start to explore for ourselves in daily life with curiosity to consider: how do some of our ‘norms’ in society become norms? Do these norms serve us in truth? And, where am I in my own daily living accepting norms, without first discerning what feels true for me in that moment? Where am I making a choice that may go against the grain, or go against my own well-trodden ingrained way, but that may just be what is needed at this time?
What if in discerning ‘normal’ we set a new bar of ‘normal,’ which is one of more awareness, more responsibility, and more empowerment when we realise that we don’t have to follow a particular norm, but we can begin a new norm based on our own lived experiences – one that just may turn the tide on abuse? Or shine a light so that others can see there is another way?
By Jane Keep, London
- Vocabulary.com. (2018). normal – Dictionary Definition. [online] Available at: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/normal [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
- Yourdictionary. (2018). Social Norm Examples. [online] Available at: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/social-norm-examples.html [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].