Normal Doesn’t Exist and Never Has

Neon sign that reads, Normal Gets You Nowhere
Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

Seek Better Instead of Normal

I realize it’s a bold statement to say that normal doesn’t exist. But stop and think about what normal really is.

  • Is it average? That’s merely a percentage in the middle. By definition, at least two-thirds are on either end.
  • Is it common? But what’s common for your community or family may be uncommon for mine.
  • Is it how we used to do it? That may come closest to what people think with the word normal, but people, ways, and times change. It’s a natural process, and what we like to think of as “the way things were” is always colored by our individual experience. My sister and I don’t even remember the same events in our childhoods in the same way.

It’s been a weird week. My husband learned that the wife of a long-time friend died when the RV they lived in exploded and burned down while he was out running errands. She may have been smoking while her oxygen was on. Or there may have been a propane leak.

Minutes after talking to that friend, he got another call telling him that his sister’s mobile home had burned to the ground. The evicted tenant was in the process of moving her stuff out when it happened. No one died or was injured, and the dogs’ kenneled outside were saved. But the home, two storage buildings, and loads of junk in the yard were destroyed.

Later that night, my husband came to me. “I know you don’t want to stay here when I’m gone, so let’s start looking for a place where you want to be so we can get it ready.” He blew my socks off on so many levels!

The next day, a 45-minute auto service turned into a four-hour marathon. I was prepared for a wait and hadn’t scheduled anything else. The service tech kept me updated, but after a while, the manager came out to give me more technical details about why it was taking so long. That’s when I realized that they were expecting me to go ballistic and weren’t sure why I wasn’t. On the test drive, the manager and I had a good discussion about crazy customers and crazy bosses, and how their words and actions destroy the innocent people they take their frustrations out on.

Throughout the week, I kept seeing and hearing phrases like “returning to normal”, “the new normal” and “getting back to normal”. All of these things have been rattling around in my head, and when I woke up this morning it hit me:

Normal is a figment of our imagination.

Time and again, both history and prehistory have shown us that life is not a constant. Whether it’s natural forces like floods and drought, or political forces like war, or biological forces like pandemics and crop diseases, our human lives have been in constant change, whether we have the perspective to see it or not. What we do have, however, is the ability to choose how we react to that change — any change. Our reason knows this, but our emotional centers want to cling to the “safe” familiar, even when it is far from safe.

Consider that, had our forebearers all stuck to the familiar places, the familiar game animals, and the familiar forging plants, humans would have remained on the African continent and possibly perished there. Yet we still fight change. We still want normal. In the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, the people decided they didn’t want to live life on the road. In less than three months, they twice asked to go back to Egypt — even knowing it meant a return to slavery — because it also meant they knew where their food and water would come from. Millenia later, we still think that way.

So, I’ve decided to eliminate normal from my vocabulary. And it’s antonym abnormal. Both of those terms carry too much baggage. Different is good. It’s much more neutral. For example, some twenty years ago, I learned that the nerve structure in my right hand is abnormal. The doctor who told me said 11%-19% of the population has the same structure. I challenged his terminology. If one in ten people have it, how abnormal can that be? “Different” works much better, especially when those differences are inconsequential to quality.

In many other instances, better is more appropriate. I don’t want my life to be just different, I want it to be better. I don’t want society to “go back to normal,” I want it to grow into something better. For everyone who has lost so much this last year, normal can never be what it was before. It will be different. It can be better, if we choose to make it so for ourselves and for others.

Weird, crazy, and challenging are all valid ways to describe the week that I’ve had. Different fits, too. But better? Yes, even that fits. My husband and I have a better, clearer plan for our futures. I gave the service tech, his boss — and by extension his fellow employees — a better day than I had to, by keeping my cool, not complaining, and lending a listening ear. Not having a meltdown made my day better, too.

How about you? Is your normal worth hanging on to, or do you want more? Are you willing to accept different on the way to finding better?

Grace, Peace and Hugs!

3 thoughts on “Normal Doesn’t Exist and Never Has”

  1. I get the point that you’re trying to make but I think the normal is here to stay. You shouldn’t think about it as a static average. The way you thought about normal concept is the issue. It’s an issue you generated by yourself. The normal is a perception that is part of the way we make sense of things, just like zero or time. You can’t just simply say that they are empty and therefore aren’t real. Just think of it as a relative concept with reference to a particular meaningful sample. Think of it just like motion or rest. Nothing is really at rest, but still the concept of is useful as a relative description. You are at rest on earth but the earth revolves constantly round the sun and rotates constantly about it’s axis. The sun also revolves round a galaxy along with the solar system. You are at rest and yet you are never at rest. I think normal is one such a contradictory relative concept but it’s part of how our brains evolved to make sense of things


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