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The Quest to Define Normal


The Quest to Define Normal
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Have you ever been called weird? Have you ever called another thing or person weird? The dictionary defines weird as being of strange or extraordinary character but how often do we question the other perspective. How often do we think about what it really means to be normal? 

What is “Normal”?

It seems like we live in a world where it appears relatively easy and natural to point out what we deem abnormal so you would think we have a pretty solid idea of what normal is. The dictionary defines normal as conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern. So what is the standard for normal? Is there a standard for normal? While we can all agree that normalcy is a valid state of affairs I think it would be impossible to get matching answers on what defines a person or thing as normal.

But like most words, normal does mean what it means. Likewise and still in line with words, that meaning is also dynamically interpreted person to person. In the same sense that we all think differently, we all build our own standards for normal over time. Those standards are built on a basis of life experiences,environment, and opinion. But this is only one part of looking at what the true meaning of normalcy is.

When we think about normal we need to consider there are two varieties of normal. There’s a subjective normal and an objective normal. Objectively there are a number of things most people can agree are normal or abnormal. These situations are ones based on laws,economic standards,verified facts, or the base nature of something. For instance, if you’re on a two lane highway and someone is driving the opposite direction of the one specified for a lane it is abnormal because a concrete law is in place. If a woman goes into a men’s room it’s abnormal because the door and basic social practice tells us which restroom is appropriate.

But what about subjective normal? Not every situation is fully governed by something concrete and that’s where we substitute our personal definition of normal to fill the gap. Our personal sense of normal changes based on where we are, who we’re with, and even smaller factors like weather or what day it is. In other words, our scale for what rates as normal constantly evolves to suit our immediate circumstances. An example of this would be what you consider normal in your home environment and around more intimate company is completely unique from what you see as normal in your workplace and around colleagues.

But the real magic and what truly constitutes as your normal is the unique way those two aspects mingle. Like the right and left hemispheres of the human brain running in harmony, our definition of normal is a unique intermingling of our objective and subjective standards, resulting in our unique and one-of-a-kind viewpoint of normal. So next time you move to point out something abnormal in your environment,stop and think. It may seem perfectly natural to judge something we consider out of place but in perspective it can be a lot more interesting and accurate to look at it as just a different variation of normal.

The Benefits of Normalcy

So maybe you can accept that normal isn’t a completely concrete standard but the next question is whether it’s good or bad to be normal. If you go by the idea that everyone’s normal is a little different, what that really means is that what we’d consider here is conformity and not normalcy. Conformity is basically what happens when we adjust ourselves to fit someone else’s normal or a more objective situation.

Depending on the situation, a little bit of conformity isn’t a completely bad thing. There will be situations like working,group social events, or even major life events where the better option is to consider at least partial conformity. But there will also be situations where it’s better to trust your sense of normal and not try to shape yourself to someone else’s. How are you supposed to know when to do that?

The answer is really kind of grey. It has a lot to do with the particular circumstance but also some dependency on the concepts of right and wrong. Sometimes when we observe something as abnormal or disagree with it, it’s because it actually is something we have a logical reason to reject. For instance, let’s look at a funeral. There are a number of ways to grieve and in some ways we can’t say they’re right or wrong. You can definitely question them or find them right or wrong but at the end of the day this might be an area where there’s no difference in whether you conform or do what’s natural to you. But there are some objectively wrong things to do at the same type of event such as showing up in your birthday suit,talking ill of the dead, or not showing some basic condolences to the family.

Really the decision to either go with your normal or try to blend into someone else’s will be up to you and probably a partial decision more than a full one. It’s unhealthy in a sense to ever completely change yourself according to someone else’s standards. You should think,form opinions, and be your own person but temper it with a little conforming when necessary. Being normal doesn’t have to mean not being you. It  just means you do you by a few slightly different guidelines  when the situation calls for it.Understanding that sometimes we need to fly our freak flag a little lower for the best success in a situation can be  a great sign of maturity and also shows that we’re acknowledging the people around us.

Can we Really be Normal?

Understanding the true nature of what it is to be normal might really make you wonder if it’s actually possible to be normal. If you think in terms of something being a variation of normal as opposed to abnormal then there are billions of defining standards of normal just co-existing in the world. My idea of normal isn’t your idea of normal and both of our normals are different from a third person’s normal.

I think whether or not a person can truly be normal is a question you can’t truly answer because to some degree what’s normal is that we’re all a little strange in a way. I actually sort of prefer that way of thinking. When I think about other people in that sense it makes it much easier for me to accept them for who they are as opposed to trying to squeeze them into a mold made from just my personal standards. It’s a strange thing to consider, but every time we jump to labels or judging something based on our own personal measuring stick we disrespect the world and people around us a little and possibly miss out on an enriching or engaging experience.

When I think about individual people as not part of a grouping but rather as a group of weirdos I feel more like I want to appreciate each of those people for who they are. So is it possible to be normal? I personally don’t think so and I frankly kind of like that. The less we worry about deciding if something is normal, the more we can appreciate that the world is full of unique people and experiences that offer something for us to discover.


So what is normal? At the end of the day there may not actually be a true sense of normalcy because each of us ultimately forms our own perceptions of what constitutes as normal. So while we can definitely define it as a word, it’s important and a bit surreal when you realize that your normal might be someone else’s weird. Perhaps as people the better alternative is to not judge or point out something we find abnormal but rather to take a step back and appreciate someone else’s normal. The more we open our minds to the new and different things around us, the more we can learn to appreciate that we’re all a little weird in a way and that’s just fine.

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