Normal is a word like any other; six letters — two vowels and four consonants. It isn’t exceptionally friendly like “hello” or informative like “delicious,” or even cautionary like “flammable.” You can’t even use it to impress your friends like you would with “anthropomorphism” or ease your boss’ stress by being “punctual.” No, it is just another word at the end of the day. So why is it getting so much “airtime” these days?
Our good friend Webster (Noah, not Daniel) says the word means “conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern.” And though I am sure Daniel’s definition would be somewhat more interesting, let’s run with Noah and Merriam’s take on it. That definition is basically three more boring words strung together to explain the first boring word. I’m not disagreeing with such respectable compilers of truly heavy (literally and figuratively, so the meme-rs can’t use it wrong) literary works, but it is a less than interesting definition of a less than interesting word. At least Daniel’s definition might have had a hint of brimstone.
So why is it that we are all talking about normal as though it is something to strive for, when it is really just a base line to measure more effective and interesting things? Honestly, putting such an emphasis on “normal” is like driving to Baskin Robbins or chasing down Ben and Jerry’s to order vanilla. Some people do like vanilla, I admit; but to most people vanilla ice cream is only useful as a sprinkles delivery system. It’s great in sundaes — after you add everything else. A parfait without the other flavors and stuff, after all, is just vanilla ice cream in a little cup. And no one ever orders a “vanilla split” with vanilla sauce and a vanilla on top. So, again, I ask, why?
Well, (as though there was ever any doubt) I will attempt to explain. Though it may seem that I have taken up vanilla-bashing as my newest hobby, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Vanilla is in fact quite delicious — which is one reason why it is used as a baseline. You can’t go wrong with vanilla, and you always know how vanilla is going to taste. It’s good when you are feeling great, it’s a wonderful respite when you are sick, and vanilla just settles every meal into that warm and fuzzy semi-coma we all enjoy after a particularly fine meal. Not like what “strawberry delusions” or “periwinkle plotz” might do to our burgers and cream horns.
So, the answer is, of course, that normal — like a really good vanilla ice cream — is always good every single time. Or at least we think it is. To be sure, though, we need to go back and reexamine the expert’s definition. Conforming, standard and pattern might seem innocuous enough at first glance, but are they truly beneficial? Is what we conform to helpful, is the standard useful, and is the pattern something which will yield positive results? If so, then great. Carry on and live your best life. But if not, well, we might just have sunk to the lowest common denominator. And that seldom works out for the best in the long run.
The truth is, we all have a normal we cling to simply because it is the easiest way to get through our days. I might find that I enjoy eating an entire package of marshmallows while watching “The Biggest Loser,” just to take the edge off. And I might spend a ridiculous amount of money on meal programs because it’s too much work cleaning a carrot or peeling an apple. Or I might put 12 ounces of “toppings” on a 2-ounce cup of “fat-free” ice cream because of all the calories I saved ordering something I would never eat by itself. Silly, yes (except the toppings part, especially if there is fudge), but the principal is still sound regardless.
People go through their lives every day doing things they might not have thought out too well simply because it has become normal (easy) to them. Many of these habits have negative long-term effects both physically and psychologically, but the pattern — the normal — of it has been going on for so long that they never notice the downside until something goes drastically wrong. So, we need to examine what our normal is, and try to figure out if it is worth keeping. And we need to do it now before the potential negative effects become drastic or terminal.
In today’s world of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone seems to be wishing for a return to normal, and many of us might not truly know what that is. If there is any, admittedly tarnished, silver lining to it all, it is that we have been forced out of a pattern. Some of our previous patterns were good and need to be returned to as soon as is safely possible. But some of those patterns, those conformities to thoughts and standards, weren’t working anyway. Or worse still, they were damaging us and everyone around us.
These need to be changed, and now is the time. So, make a change that will become a better normal to chase. And at the risk of sounding as though I have stolen a page from “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy,” eat a vegetable, take a walk, and don’t throw garbage in your neighbor’s yard — because he might have more garbage and a bigger shovel.