Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The other day my daughter complained that every time she uses our pepper grinder--which has three settings for grind size--"someone" has changed its grind size to coarse and that she wished people would return it to fine when they finished using it implying, of course, that fine is the normal setting, the status quo.  Any other option is a deviation, translated "wrong."

I realized then that in our household at least, there exists in other instances this same group think.  There is a "normal" setting such as this for the toaster, dishwasher, clothes washer and clothes dryer.  This setting is so accepted that if someone (i.e. me) changes the setting for a particular load (because that choice is more appropriate) others using the same machine go on using that new setting without questioning even if it is not appropriate for their purposes.  This is because, in their minds, there is a "normal" setting that is "always" used; why would anyone deviate?

This thinking often spills over into other areas like positioning of the driver's seat and mirrors.  What is normal for me is not necessarily normal for you.  Yet,if I was the last person to drive the car you might expect me to reposition everything so that it was perfect for you the next time you drive (presuming that your setting is right and normal; mine is the aberration).   It's easy to see why you might think this if you drive the car more often than I.  You might see yourself as the main driver and therefore your settings as the accepted normal.  But the status quo could quickly change if I suddenly started using the car "more" than you.  You begin to see how "normal" is truly arbitrary.

In 18th century America it was "normal" to own slaves.  In most of the 20th century it was normal to smoke in restaurants and on airplanes--even doctors might smoke in their examination rooms.  Group think--often the accepted definition of "normal"--is not necessarily right, not necessarily what's best.  It is true that in nature sometimes wires get crossed and something "unusual" happens in a species; but sometimes that "unusual" thing starts happening more and more until what was abnormal is now quite normal. 

In reality, what I think of as normal, is often what I have decided I am comfortable with, what works for me, what fits my view of the world.  I might find like-minded people who agree with me but this does not necessarily mean that I am right, that there is, in fact a "normal" and then there is the "abnormal" and the world should side with me and my supporters.

The smaller the world gets and the more connected its inhabitants get the more we need to be open to rethinking "normal."

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