What is Normal?

Have you ever discussed that question before with anyone? Perhaps if anyone actually say that he or she had done it before, then my guess is that maybe they’re from psychology field. As a matter of fact, this question is part of the opening discussion in my class this week. It wasn’t exactly “what is normal” that we discussed, but the opposite. What is abnormal? It was Abnormal Psychology for second year college students, and we had an excellent discussion.

What is normal? ‘Am I normal’ is the question I sometimes asked myself on certain occasions.  Is there anybody that is ever truly normal in this world? If there wasn’t, then would it mean that we are all abnormal? Perhaps not all the time, but at some point?

The result of the discussion in my class is that being normal or abnormal depends on many factors. It depends on the culture and norms of the surrounding environment. Some behaviors may be seen normal in some cultures and where they happen (context), but those behaviors can be performed in another culture or context and they may yield a different response from people.

It also depends on statistics. A behavior of a person may look somewhat different or weird, but because many people or the majority of people also perform the same behavior, then the behavior may be perceived as somewhat normal.

But enough with boring psychology lesson. I would like to take the question on a deeper level actually. I was asked if I know of a “normal” person and why do I think that person as normal. I racked my brain and could not come up with a single person. If I go farther down my memory lane, well maybe there was a person in my junior high school back then that I thought was normal. I thought she was normal because her grades were excellent, ranked one throughout junior high. She was also good in sports, excellent public speaker for her age, could play a musical instrument, an extrovert, good sense of humor, teacher’s pet, and so on. You name all the good stuff, she had them all. But then a thought came up, if she got all of those good stuff, shouldn’t that make her ‘abnormal’?  She was not normal because how often could a person reach all of those things? Nonetheless, such a person did exist. I never heard about her anymore since I graduated from junior high. I didn’t really keep in touch with anyone in that junior high because I only stayed there for one year during my 9th grade (I was a transfer student). Too bad I have no clue about how she is right now. I would have loved to test a hypothesis in my head, to see a correlation between her normalcy back then with right now.

Then comes another question. Just because a person is perceived normal by her peers, does that person actually have to also think in his or her head the same thing? We never know what’s going on inside a person’s head, correct? What if normal people think that they are actually not normal, that they don’t fit into their family or society? Just because they act normal, doesn’t mean there isn’t a battle happening in their mind constantly. Just because we see them normal with their public behavior doesn’t mean that they act normal privately too.

Back to my lovely students from Abnormal Psychology (Notice that I say “lovely” students, not abnormal?…Joking!), there was one important point of discussion that we came to at the end. I asked them a question after a long discussion about normality and abnormality, “Who do you think create the criteria of what is normal and abnormal?” Their answer gave me such a big reward, “Us, we are, the normal people.”  See, all teachers will understand what I mean by reward. It happens only when your students can give you such a wise and correct answer. I think a garden of flowers just blossomed inside my chest (a bit dramatic, I know).

They are absolutely right. Normal people are the ones who created the criteria for normality — the division between normal and what is no longer considered normal. We normal people hold such a power. With that power, we can treat some people differently, perhaps even put them down, just because we don’t accept their behavior. With that power, we separate some people who are different from the rest of normal population. We can do many damages with that power, even to the point of eliminating them. It had happened before if we look at the history of mankind. Hitler did it, just one obvious example. There were many others in history, but perhaps we don’t have to look too far back. It is happening right now with the way IS treating people who have different view of the world from them. What is sad is that consequently, look at what some people have done to the refugees who flew from IS. Those people, in return, treat those refugees as also “different”, perhaps “not normal”, not like the rest of “their normal” people. And the ball continues to roll.

I think we are still making new criteria in our head, from one situation to another, about what is normal, who is normal. It is happening in all levels of work, status economy, human developmental stage, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. Even children and teenagers are doing it to each other; it’s called bullying.

What is the solution to this? The idealistic part of me can only say this, “Time to educate.” But mind you, education however, can happen in many ways. It doesn’t have to happen in the context of educational institution. So therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to take part. But before we can educate the right thing, we also need to reflect. Have we just recently made our own criteria of what is normal and abnormal? Have we treated some people differently too because they are different? Have you?


Originally published in January 2016 in another blog of mine.