Does normal mean something that’s commonplace or something that’s healthy? In terms of personal or social development, it could be said that “normal” represents what’s wholesome, ordered, leading in a wise direction. But if we’re taking the word to mean that which is fairly widespread and therefore considered normal, it could mean something unwise becomes the norm sheerly due to numbers.
As a question, it’s surely tapping into whether “acceptable” is determined from the top down or the bottom up? Normal in the sense of being “correct” seems handed down from the world of thought or tradition: certainty in a specific course of action. The other meaning’s perhaps more democratic in that if we all decide for ourselves then whatever emerges, statistically, becomes a new norm.
And, these days, it seems everything’s getting pulled apart this way – tradition and reasoning torn down by personal choice. In a world of free thinking and free will, we effectively all choose how we’re going to live. The very idea of “normal” must now be this constantly fluctuating commodity as influencers and marketers forever seek the next trend that’ll reshape our collective landscapes.
With the pace of that, it’s almost as if normal doesn’t even exist. As soon as anything’s solid enough to become a reality it’s then a label we perhaps don’t want to wear – who wants to be defined, pinned down, hemmed in by those kinds of commitments? The way we’re now using the self, the brand, is fascinating if not slightly surreal.
Modern life is strangely “knowing” – we’re so aware of what we’re doing and all these theories of personal identity and influence. It’s a strange way to be human, curating yourself from the outside in (or, the inside out). And it clearly fits well with consumerism, with this idea of what we buy and own defining us.
Aren’t we being actively encouraged to live this way? To present an image of who we are, where we stand, what we have to say. From the wealth of human civilisation, we dip into those things we feel suit us to create our own individual response. It’s this sense of a personal culture: our own self-defining statement about how we, uniquely, see and experience this world.
It’s intriguing really, given how much commonality seemingly used to bind people together: shared experiences, beliefs and lifestyles helping forge the bonds of identity and feeling that defined communities. Orienting ourselves around the same basic structures, people knew what they had in common. Lives following similar arcs must offer people plenty to bond over; as opposed to the division of endless choice (Notes One).
In a way, though, belief in normality is perhaps an illusion? All we’re doing is living, relating to what surrounds us, and charting our paths within it. Society, culture or advertising might inundate us with countless options to keep redefining ourselves but, within it all, we’re all just seeking ways to express who we are and find a place in this crazy world.
Notes and References:
Note 1: What is acceptable?
Note 1: Letting go of “who you are”
Note 1: “Paradox of Choice”
Note 1: What does art have to say about life?
Note 1: All we want to do passes through community
Note 1: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 1: Ways thought adds spin to life