Normal – is there Another Way?

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

References:

  1. Vocabulary.com. (2018). normal – Dictionary Definition. [online] Available at: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/normal [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
  2. Yourdictionary. (2018). Social Norm Examples. [online] Available at: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/social-norm-examples.html [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].

Related Reading:
From exhaustion to vitality: how my definition of ‘normal’ was challenged
What’s the New Normal?
Zoochosis – A very human condition

678 thoughts on “Normal – is there Another Way?

  1. We need to gauge what is ‘normal’ not by what others do or don’t do around us, but by what is in line with the deepest level of love we have access to.

  2. Normal gives a sense of belonging based on our choices. It is a way to construct an us and to feel the emotion of belonging to it. That is why the normal is so hooking. Once it becomes part of our movements it is very difficult to fight because we do not see it anymore as part of something that may harm us.

    1. yes – ‘ fitting in’ and being in the midst of things rather than standing out with our own choices even if they seem ‘not normal’ to others. It’s a big thing in societies as to ‘normal’ and ‘standing out’ if we make different choices. There is a lot of pressure to stay with the crowd. I know when I stopped drinking alcohol, I did it because personally Id always felt unwell when I drank alcohol, even a small glass, and I hated the smell. I drank it because everyone around me drank – and one day at 44 years old I realised I didnt have to stay with the crowd and could make my own choices. I had a lot of peer pressure at that time to continue to drink – and few around me considered that the choice for me was self loving and I felt so much better for it – instead they were uncomfortable that I wasn’t drinking when they were (I wasn’t staying with the ‘norm’).

  3. We have settled for what seems normal in this world but have forgotten that what feels true to us is the true marker that allows us to set new standards and expand from there in everything we do.

  4. It’s great to look at what we have chosen for ourselves that make up our normal and realise that these are ways that support our body rather than bludgeon it like they did in the past…but our body, as it continually changes, asks us to change too so that our normal is in fact an ability to continue to set new standards that are creating an ever increasing vitality and more joyful way of life.

  5. There is always another way to do something, whatever that is. So just because something is accepted as normal by the majority, doesnt mean that its normal for an individual, and in fact it may be the exact opposite. Who are we to judge what is normal for someone we know or even someone we don’t know?

    1. And it is often refreshing to enquire or be curious or ask the simple question as to why things are the way they are. I was once dealing with a legal issue and I asked my solicitor ‘why does it have to be this way?’ and is it possible to do it another way – and after the solicitor looked into it there was indeed another way. We disempower ourselves if we just go with what is said. Of course there are laws and policies which we do need to follow but often there are new or other ways to do things.

  6. Seeking only for that what is normal dulls our natural creativity in exploring the intelligence we naturally have access to. The intelligence that would have not brought us where we are now, but to the heavenly gardens we belong to be instead.

  7. A lot of things in our lives we have normalised, it is like a habit of the human being. For instance in the construction industry I actually would not know where to go if we would not have all the norms and regulations to work along as they describe at times in detail how you have to make your design a) to make it work, and b) to make a safe design that will have little change to hurt anybody when the installations are operated. But what does this tell about our intelligence, as you may say as being an engineer you have to know the norms and how to work with them but to me that is not true intelligence, that is just a skill you learn because you are constantly practising it. When one would ask me to start from scratch without having any norm I have to confess I would be in serious problems because I have not learned to be and work in that way. We are always looking what other have done and when we find that many have done it in a certain way then this would be the way to choose. It is like in online shopping, we choose the products that have the most likes but we never discern from our own feeling what will be good for us to choose or to do.

  8. Society finds it hard to accept what is not considered mainstream – but I also think of mainstream as comfortable when going against the grain is what truly evolves us.

  9. What’s perceived as ‘normal’ can be very harmful but to step away from the crowd can seem too daunting so people continue practices that are detrimental. This can be as simple as not eating lunch whilst at the computer desk but actually taking a break, or not working hours and hours of overtime chasing deadlines in a way one gets sick and then needs to take time off. If normal became accepted as what truly supported us (which includes everyone equally) then wouldn’t that be an amazing permission for everyone to look after themselves, and not in an indulgent way.

  10. The way I used to exercise was considered healthy but my body said otherwise. I believed the ‘no pain no gain’ mantra because it suited me. I tried to use exercise as a way of feeling superior to others who didn’t do so much because I was so insecure and needed something I could do to tell myself I was ok. Completely crazy thinking as we all have different needs and bodies. Exercise is now a way of supporting my body and my connection with it. Then exercise was so painful and forced I was checked out for most of it. It was actually harmful the way I was doing it. So glad that is no longer my norm!

  11. When we are ingrained in a way of being and living that we have decided and accepted is normal, even when we have illness and disease growing year on year to break away from the way of living can be difficult or something you are not even willing to consider. As we all do know deep down that it is down to our responsibility and what we choose that determines the quality of our life.

  12. If the norm around me doesn’t support me and yet I dare not show others this by eating differently or making different choices, then I am truly abusing myself and them, for what if this way were abusive to them too, but no one dare rock the boat and show otherwise, giving them permission to make different choices too?

  13. Life is not the blank canvass we think it is, but is coloured and informed by all the lives we have lived before. But that doesn’t mean we need to just repeat endlessly what we have always done – every trip around the sun is a chance to go deeper and clear out the junk we have accumulated over lifetimes.

  14. There is no normal to ‘fit all sizes’, and therefore we cannot be prescriptive in the detail of how to live, however, the fundamental exploration of these details as Jane describes is relevant to all of us, “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?“

  15. Each of our normal is going to be based on our own lived experiences, whether we have normalised living with stress or anxiety, or vitality and a sense of well-being. How crucial it is to pay attention to the choices we are then going to live out that determine what is normal for each of us.

  16. We are all responsible for setting standards which then determines what is “normal”. If we set our standards really low then that becomes our normal.

    1. Great point – as in the way we live our lives is not just for us – it sets a standard in life for others – thus it is a greater responsibility than we realise in relation to the way we are living our lives.

  17. There have been cases recently when it has been revealed to me that a trend that I just could never do which seemed so good for you is in fact really bad for your teeth. Something inside of me knew this wasn’t what I needed but because so many people swore by it I felt like a failure that I couldn’t initiate doing it. It just showed me that I was actually honouring what I felt, as in, I didn’t feel to do it and then my body gave a very clear signal not to do it.

    1. Great example of how things can be normal, taken as read, even discussed or researched to be ‘healthy’ yet in the end the body knows best, and the more we deepen our relationship to our body the more we navigate through life discerning along the way – no matter what the prevailing norms are, we make our own choices.

  18. To go on holiday Can ve a habit too.
    It is important to feel each time again what is needed. What service the body and the relations with others.
    This way we get ourselves out momentums of comfort what not truly supported us.

  19. After spending much of my life trying to fit in with others and be liked and accepted, I now love to live in a way that feels true for me and as a result of this I feel confident in myself and I feel healthy and well.

  20. This is a great question; ‘just because it is normal in that society, does it make it true?’ there are many behaviours that seem ‘normal’ in society such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, staying up late, being tired, gossiping, the list goes on, but these behaviours do not feel true or loving and so it feels important to question whether these ‘normal’ behaviours are supportive for us, rather than to follow them to fit in.

  21. Even the pied piper can be normalised – imagine singing and walking and following a piper is normal and we do it all the time. Would many of us realise if the piper is leading us over a cliff?

  22. Yes, shining a light that there is a different way is something within all of our grasp. We are always reflecting something and that something is made up of our choices.

  23. I was intrigued to look up what ‘normal’ actually meant – what it’s common synonyms were; “usual, standard, typical, stock, common, ordinary, customary, conventional, habitual, accustomed” What I get when I read all of these words is – laziness, irresponsibility and passivity – none of these are adjectives attributed to one that is sticking their head above the parapet and asking the questions. Go with the flow, roll with the crowd and…well, look where that has gotten us.

  24. When I was young my mum used to say I was easily led, I used to go with the flow and do what was supposed to be a normal way of behaviour for my age at the time but so much of it was abusive and by no means a way to live but because we were all doing it, it appeared to be normal. How can anything that damages our health be considered normal if we look at it honestly? Looking at it now it seems very abnormal!

  25. Great to call out the difference between normal and true and know that there are so many options for us to try these days. There are so many varieties of everything that we are setting ourselves up to just try things when in fact we can stop and feel what is true first.

  26. Normal is only normal when the vast majority subscribe to a certain way of being. What is normal for our current generation is certainly not what was normal for my grandparent’s generation. What if the vast majorities’ living way today was unhealthy, stressful and full of anxiety would we promote and defend it as a good thing because a greater number of people live it?

  27. So, judging by today’s standards it is normal to; hate your job, be stressed, have disconnected relationships, be utterly exhausted, abuse your body with all kinds of foods, indulgences, movements and substances,….I make no judgement on any of that and for much of my life this was me…and, in occasional parts, it still is…so, as I said, zero judgement….but, what I do know absolutely categorically is that this IS NOT NORMAL.

    1. I hear what you’re saying here Otto, no judgement as well because at times I struggle also, but I hear so many people living for the weekend and not enjoying their jobs. If we hate our jobs, it is a large percentage of our life that we hate and major blow outs or doing what we think we like at the weekend doesn’t t make up for the joy lost or not experienced. This is also something that should never be normal.

      1. I was chatting to someone yesterday about coffee. The conversation opened up and we started going for it, so I asked him “is it normal to take drugs four times every day, is it normal to need drugs to get started in the morning?” Really challenging what our normal has become is fascinating and very revealing.

  28. What you say about the snacks is spot on. I don’t snack at work and I’m the odd one out…but ten years ago, it wasn’t like it is now; now with everyone nibbling away at any time of the day – have our bodies biologically evolved to now need more food? I don’ believe so….so in fact, you could argue that I’m the one behaving more normally?

    1. It is important to consider what has changed that nibbling and snacking is the normal way to nourish ourselves rather than listen to what our bodies need.

  29. ‘Normal can be seen as conforming, as something that is ‘usual’ or expected’ and as such can be addictive – to fit in is accepted by others and to be ourselves we can end up standing out and making others uncomfortable. We can learn to walk and ‘not normal’, it may challenge us, but what is the alternative? To hide in normal-ness?

  30. As Jane has so beautifully shared, we can behave in a certain way to conform with others, and this is then perceived as being ‘normal’ – however, if this is done to fit in and not because we truly felt to behave that way, then it overrides what is our true normal, and stunts our natural expression. This is something many of us do, and I can speak from experience as we often find comfort in fitting in and not standing out from the crowd and out of fear of being picked on and seen as different. However, this has stunted my expression and hence stopped me from being free to be me, and guess what – everyone misses out as our natural expression is quite beautiful.

  31. It is great to discuss and dissect the word ‘normal’, and Jane, I love how you have shown how ‘normal’ is generally seen as something that is a habit, a way of conforming or fitting in, and generally within some rules (which can be arbitrary). What is normal to one may not be normal to another, and this is important to realise as a normal life for one may not be so for another. And yet there is a normal that is truly natural for us all, which of course we can deviate away from at any time and then make the other way of behaving our new normal. But this does not take away that fact that deep down there is the original normal that we all have.

    1. That to me is breaking the norm and instead trust and rely on your true intelligence that does not need any norm but just knows what is true.

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