Why normal is dangerous

Perhaps not ‘normal’ itself, but the way that so often, normal is treated as interchangeable with acceptable, or reasonable. There’s also the issue of expecting people should aspire to being normal.

Our cultures and governments pay a lot of attention to statistics. What does the average person earn? How much exercise does the average person get? How well does the average child do at school? For governments, averages seem to form a basis for deciding what is acceptable. We might speak of the normal working week, the normal weight for your height. It tends to be a bit ‘one size fits all’ as a mindset. When did ‘normal’ start to equate with ‘best’? When did we start aspiring to be average?

Consumerism is normal. Depression is normal. Child obesity is increasingly normal. Waste and pollution are normal. I could go on with the list. We don’t challenge ‘normal’ enough. When things become familiar, we accept them. We find it hard to collectively imagine something different.

Just because something is familiar, doesn’t make it right. Just because most people do a thing, doesn’t make it right either. All ‘normal’ is a measure of, is what the majority do. Democracy is all about what the majority do, but that does not mean that it’s always the best call, in all situations. If a majority pursue lifestyle choices likely to result in diabetes and heart failure, that doesn’t make it the ideal choice for everyone, after all.

‘Normal’ is a dangerous way of assessing value and deciding what is desirable. It is very much about maintaining things as they are – progress defies normal, so does improvement. It’s an easy option to wheel out when you don’t have any actual values to basis decisions on.

One thought on “Why normal is dangerous”

  1. I worry also about the concept of “average” – I try to teach maths through looking at media and headlines. There are actually (at least) three methods of calculating an average and each could give you different results… depending on what you wanted people to believe.
    There was a newspaper headline some time ago which screamed “half of all medical graduates are below average!”
    Well…yes… they would be. If the average is based on the median figure then exactly half will be below, and half above.
    “average” and “normal” are slippery, relative terms.

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