What is Normal?

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My local writing group, the Northern Colorado Writers, announced that the theme for its 2023 Anthology is ‘An Exploration of Normal.’ They asked for poems, stories and essays about what normal looks like? And do we need to return to the status quo?

In preparation for writing my story about the Canaries (women munition workers in WW1), I’ve been thinking about what is normal and how you know what it is?

Dictionaries define normal as conforming to a standard or the typical state or condition. In other words, normal is based on some arbitrary reference point.

In my doctoral dissertation on prospect theory, I spent a lot of time on reference points and how they affect risk acceptance and decision making. Although there is a status quo bias, prospect theory shows that the reference point is not fixed and can shift based on how the issue is framed. BTW, this took me two years and twenty mathematical propositions to prove the microeconomic basis of this statement.

Which brings me back to the belief that the idea of ‘normal’ is arbitrary. Without going full-on situational, the diversity and fluidity of normality are proof that defining normal is a losing proposition. If you have traveled, you know that what may be acceptable in one country/culture is abnormal in others. You can see this in a critical scene in the Inglorious Bastards where the Americans are detected because of the way they ordered drinks in a bar. (If you haven’t seen it or have never been to Europe, it has to do with whether you include the thumb when signaling for a drink).

There is, of course, a whole side discussion of defining normal as a method of social control. When a politician says, ‘That’s not us’ or ‘We don’t act that way’ they have established that any disagreement is deviance with the implication of immorality and criminality.

So, coming out of the pandemic, we have a new normal where you don’t shake hands (or if you do, it is a political statement) and wearing masks is accepted without comment. This status change only took two years which shows how quickly normal changes.

Which brings me back to the title question – What is Normal?

Of course, I cannot discuss normality without talking about Abby Normal.