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Normal is an hourglass

What is normal?

Normalcy has many definitions— probably as many as there are people in this world.

Recently, I heard a statement: Anything or anyone can be normal no matter how bizarre or extreme, you just have to get used to it.

In some societies female infanticide is normal, in others cannibalism used to be normal, in some societies equality between men and women is normal, in others, patriarchy or matriarchy. For a thief, stealing is normal, for a priest, praying is normal.

Should we define normalcy? What are the advantages of defining it? Disadvantages? Is there something that is normal for you, and is completely abnormal for someone else?

Is ‘normalcy’ the name for ‘what we’re used to’— if not, then what is ‘Normal’?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • cathye110 says:

    It’s interesting that normal is however the society in which we are living defines it. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it puts constraints on us that might not be there if in a different society. Such as our notion of beauty. The norm for America is youth and slenderness. In the middle ages, beauty was anyone wealthy enough to actually have some meat on their bones.

  • Jo Carroll says:

    I’m not sure that words like ‘normal’ or ‘average’ tell us anything. I would hope most of us conform to norms that include treating each other with respect. And then celebrating our humanity – with all its wonderful differences.

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I guess there are norms of society and that can certainly vary. But maybe normal is more universally seen as having to do with wants and needs. After that it comes down to opinions, beliefs, customs. This is a tough question now that you’ve brought it up.

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    • Damyanti says:

      I’m struggling with this very question right now. I have to idealize and justify the taking of human life–maybe even philosophize it. That’s a whole new level of normal. Le sigh.

  • I don’t think there’s really such a thing as normal.
    Because the pillar of the church is molesting young boys, the hooker is working to give her kid bread, and the billionaire really is philanthropic.
    The outside is different from the gooey inside.
    We can never really know someone.
    So how can we possibly pick one and say it’s normal?

    • Damyanti says:

      Exactly my thought process at the moment, especially in my fiction. I’m inside the mind of a killer right now, and am trying to keep my personal ideas of normal aside, in order to be able to empathize with my villain. I might be becoming too ambitious/reckless…

  • 604linda says:

    True ‘normalcy’ is a large gray area with extremes at both ends. As long as we fall into the gray area…we’re OK. Just spent 25yrs in therapy for PTSD, I graduated today. I can say now that I know what ‘normal’ feels like. I know what normal is. There is no definition for it, but only the individual knows its true meaning and value.

  • I once defined normal as ‘what most people should be not what most people are’. However, I was thinking about things like good manners, when so many people now seem to be rude. I didn’t think rudeness should be normal just because so many people are. I don’t think my little statement would hold up so well for cross-cultural differences.

    However, I think it will do for girl infanticide. That shouldn’t be normal, no matter how many people are doing it. Or underage marriage/rape/abuse.

    Normal is hard to define but it can be distinguished from common I think.

    Possibly normality is an absolute distinguishable from perception. The thief in your example THINKS he’s normal but thinking it doesn’t make him normal. He’s actually amoral – he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. A thief who knows it’s wrong (i.e. immoral) doesn’t think it’s normal, he just does it anyway.

    But that brings us back to the question of what yardstick we use to determine normalcy. On that point, I have nothing to offer up.

    • Damyanti says:

      Great points, Ciara. That yardstick for normalcy is what is bothering me too. I’m wondering how something being ‘normal’ has a soporific effect on us till one day we wake up to examine that ‘normalcy. Also, to what extent do various cultures need to respect each other–and whether this respect derives more from the power equation than anything else.

  • Speaking of normal… I saw this great book tittle on Amazon: Why be happy when you can be normal. Sounds like a good book…

  • What Stuart said – a thief thinks it’s normal if he’s never been exposed to the fact it’s also wrong.

    • Damyanti says:

      I think a lot of thieves know it is wrong to steal, but do it anyway. Right and wrong also becomes relative sometimes. I’m struggling with that framework of normality and morality in my story right now.

  • Stuart Nager says:

    It’s always normal from that person’s POV. Always has been…unless we start opening up our minds to the differences in the world.

    • Damyanti says:

      I know Stuart. Have been pondering over that opening of the mind. When, how and where, and to what extent? What are the connotations of adopting/accepting someones else’s normal?

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