What is “normal”? We all experience a subconscious ‘tug’ towards what is considered normal behavior. Even in an individualistic culture, those rare bursts of individualism usually appear the areas of style or opinion. In general, we drift towards the middle. Like gazelles, we find that we are safest somewhere in the center of the herd.
But what if normal isn’t safe? In the Middle Ages, it was ‘normal’ to store sewage in the house and then dump it out on the street. To relieve yourself wherever convenient. To bathe only occasionally. To undergo surgery without antiseptic (or anesthetic in some cases). A lot of progress has been made since then, eh? But what sorts of norms are hazardous now?
Food, Love, and Friendship
What is the “normal meal”? It could be the small “combo meal” at a fast food joint, or the “standard serving” at a chain restaurant. However for many people, this standard serving is about double to triple the amount of calories that would be safe for that person. For many people, eating “normal” servings is a recipe for obesity that comes along with a lifelong helping of discomfort, fatigue, pain, disability, depression, and possibly surgeries. For some, eating much less than a normal serving will have the same result. All the while, our instincts are telling us that as long as we’re eating “better than average”, then we should be healthy and safe. The reality is that currently 69% of Americans are overweight or obese, which means that there is no safety in normal. If you feed your kids a ‘normal diet’, they have a 32% chance of being overweight or obese. Experts are suggesting that this may be the first time in centuries where the children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. The reality is that the game is rigged so that “normal eating” is dangerous, indeed.
When it comes to romance, normal is a little risky as well. If you find a partner through one of the “normal venues” and have a “normal” approach to courtship, sex, and conflict, then your chances of divorce or separation are quite high (though divorce dose appear to be decreasing in the US…along with marriages).
If you are a woman and you date men that have a “pretty normal” attitude towards women, there is incredible risk of suffering: ¼ women will suffer domestic violence, 1/6 will experience attempted rape, and 1/12 will be stalked.
If you are a teen girl and you have a “normal dating life”, you will start dating before age 14 (3/4), and you have decent odds of being pressured to perform sex acts (1/4). You may have a hard time breaking up, since 1/5 “normal” guys will threaten to hurt you or kill themselves if you do. If you are a parent with a ‘normal’ amount of communication with your teen, you won’t know about most of this.
Researchers suggest that Americans have experienced a decline in “close friendships” since 1985. They attribute this to people being increasingly “busy”, “independent”, “not wanting to seem needy”, and “respecting others privacy”. So if you’re pretty normal in your level of “busyness, independence, or un-needyness”, then your risk of being lonely is high. Up to 1/5 ‘normal’ people state that they are unhappy due to loneliness. In fact 25% people surveyed say that they have no one right now that they could confide in about a serious issue, whereas in 1985, only about 7% of people felt that way. Actually, despite the so-called “independent spirit” of Americans, they had more friendships than most–the most severely isolated people were actually women in Japan and men in Mexico.
Beating the Bell Curve
These experiences are the average ones, but they are not everyone’s. People that beat the norm are people that have become comfortable with that unbalanced feeling of living outside of the bell curve. They are willing to endure the waves of self-doubt that inevitably occur when they are reminded that their efforts are not typical. Many times social pressures will arise to try to criticize people back towards the norm. Nature resists whatever is “unnatural”. However, social pressure doesn’t have to be the enemy. Most people that make successful changes do so by connecting with other like-minded people. They create their own herd. Nowadays you don’t even have to live with your “herd”. You can live with a group of grease-eating couch potatoes but find your own tribe of marathoners or vegans somewhere on the web. People often choose their destiny when they choose their peers. In such a group, you can be abnormal together, in a way that feels strangely…normal.