I saw what is perhaps the most truthful line written on a T-shirt. “Normal is only a setting on a washing machine.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the simplicity and the weight of those words.  “Normal” is like a mother’s hug, warm and accepting. Abnormal is the snicker of a school mate who scrunches up his nose at your lunch of stuffed vine leaves. Normal eats a square sandwich. No matter what we do, eat, say, everything is measured by the code of normal implemented by our conservative society. Within this secure framework lies the known which is safe, predictable. But in a world brimming with diversity, there are many perceptions of “normal.” Some can alienate people and have detrimental consequences within society.

Dictionary.com classifies normal as “conforming to the standard or common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.” Ah, yeah, thanks for the clarification. I’m going straight to the dentist to sand my fangs to regular size. I’m toning down my speech to a natural pitch. It seems wherever we turn we are dealt more labels that categorise us, that give us cues on how to behave, speak, and think. Society has the power to shape people into acceptable moulds with mere words, to stifle someone’s individuality.

The media is influential in shaping attitudes, bodies and behaviours and in setting a standard for the efficient running of society with opinion pieces, articles, analytical essays. Words are powerful and if they are used by prejudiced journalists who believe stereotypes, they can be all the more damaging and skew perceptions of who and what is normal or abnormal in society. In Scott Dougherty’s article “Just Act Normal,” he offers himself as an example of a “normal guy you sometimes see on Sydney’s trains.” He wears T-shirts with writing and listens to his iPod. “You’d love to sit next to me,” he continues, “I don’t cough, sniff or clean my ears with my car keys.” That’s lovely, but do you know what riles him the most? “That the freaks pay the same price for a ticket.” Scott Dougherty believes “people should pay extra to sit next to other normal people.” The freaks are the drug addicts, the ones that talk of God or the mentally ill people that converse with windows. The word freak implies that these people who have illnesses, disabilities or are quirky by nature are inferior to those that sit quietly in their square seats and listen to iPods, read books, magazines, newspapers. The media has a big responsibility to publish words that don’t promote negative attitudes but raise understanding and awareness of differences.  

We are constantly faced with changing social, economic and technological trends that dictate and influence behaviour and can consequently lead to bullying those that don’t fit the normal prototype. According to a Duncan and Riley study, approximately one in six people get bullied at work. This figure can range from 25% to 97% in certain industries. Workplace bullying can be verbal, physical or psychological and can stem from intolerance for the victim’s sexuality, family, culture, race, religion, education or economic background. According to Andy Ellis (Bullying in the Workplace-An acceptable Cost?) bullying is intimidating, abusive or offensive behaviour, that can make the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which damages their self confidence. This may cause them to suffer stress.

Normal is subjective; it’s organic and the concept of what it is to be normal changes from person to person. People who bully can be motivated by jealousy, ignorance, fear and can cause their victims to harm themselves. In 2007, the Victorian coroner concluded that 40% of suicide victims were bullied at school. Today, more than one in five children are bullied at school and feel like misfits, rejects, are depressed and alienated. In a multicultural society where people are tall, short, black, white, yellow, brown, normal is a powerful word that can divide, hurt and isolate people and lead to depression and anxiety.

Philosopher John Perry believes “there is nothing very normative about being typical, regular, usual and ordinary; but conforming to a particular type or standard seems like something one ought to do.” “Normal” starts as a word but can lead to terrifying actions as exemplified by numerous cases in history. Adolf Hitler’s vision for Germany entailed a blonde-haired, blue-eyed population with no homosexuals or communists. This man had a definition of normal and used the power of words to preach his vision to a nation. His words succeeded to create prejudices, hate and intolerance within society and divided a country. “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by few followers, recognised these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.” These are Hitler’s words from a speech in 1922 which spoke of his truth and justice and sighted passages from the Bible to support his theories. His words segregated a race, spurred people to commit horrific crimes against the Jews and led to the Holocaust in the 1940s. Jews were tortured, gassed and used as guinea pigs for grotesque medical experiments in concentration camps because they did not fit one man’s version of normal. Josef Mengele, a leading doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp, shared Hitler’s vision and believed that Germans would win the war “so that only the Aryan race will stand.” His distorted idea of normal gave him permission to dissect Jews without anaesthesia, castrate them, and test them with drugs. He would separate twins and torture one until death and watch the other for proof of pain by telepathy. These evil acts, the inverted triangles stitched onto Jewish clothing, digits tattooed on bodies, stemmed from difference, intolerance for a race that was not deemed to be ordinary or usual.    

The word “normal” is associated with electrical appliances, not humanity which is complex and layered. People are not easy to categorise. Yet as a society it is the way to maintain order, to keep out the unknown. Whether it’s a different race, religion, culture, colour or personality, the unknown instils fear in people. And, just like a washing machine, society goes round and round churning the same theories in a never ending cycle.

 

 

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics  http://www.abs.gov.au

Bully Blocking http://www.bullying.com.au/school- bullying

Cephas Ministry newsletter website http://www.newsletters.cephasministry.com/hitlerspeeches.2.99/html

Josef Mengele The Angel of Death http://www.mengele.dk

Know Bull! http://www.know-bull.com/factsnstats.html

Norton White Lawyers and Notaries http://www.nortonwhite.com.au/admin/new/documents/workplace%20bullying.pdf

Philosophy Talk Website http://theblog.philosophytalk.org/2010/03/what-is-normal.html

Reach Out http://www.au.reachout.com/find/articles/workplace-bullying

The Age Website article “Just Act Normal” http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/just-act-normal-20091215-kuim.html

The Museum of Family History http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/mengele-speaks.htm

Advertisements