“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
A couple of years ago we helped Reebok with a personality test for their highly successful “Be More Human” campaign. Part of the research that went into this assessment came from the tons of interviews we conducted with people from all over the globe, of different ages, cultures, backgrounds, and industries. What we discovered was that it didn’t matter who we spoke to – a personal trainer in Dallas, a barista in a Parisian café, or a hairdresser in Montreal – everyone had the same core values: The desire to make something of themselves and to have a positive impact on the world.
In Abnormal Psychology classes students are informed about different types of mental disorders that deviate from “normal” human existence. My professor told us stories about her time spent in a mental institution. In particular, I remember her story about a patient who offered her a flower from Neptune; he wasn’t actually holding a flower, but believed he was. Most of us would consider that behavior abnormal, but years of conducting research on human behavior has taught me that the concept of normal is very much a moving target. Not too long ago, it was thought to be perfectly normal to institutionalize women who were suffering from what we know today as PMS. Egotism, superstition, and grief were also asylum-worthy offenses. Parents of a child with a physical or learning disability were encouraged by family, friends, and pastors to commit their children to an asylum because at that time, it was thought to be the normal thing to do to deal with the abnormal.
Every day, every year, every decade, every era we redefine that concept of normal. Frankly, I think that if we were to plot every human being on a continuum from normal to abnormal, the majority would fall somewhere in the middle. No matter what’s going on in the world and how divisive things might seem, deep down we are very, very similar.
Here’s just a taste of statistics we’ve collected from our studies that depict what normal is for us:
- 60% of people are proud to be different and to stand out from the crowd (so much for wanting to fit in, eh?)
- 63% often put their foot in their mouth and wish they could take back things they’ve said.
- 73% have a strong drive to succeed and to make something of themselves.
- 75% have trouble saying “no” to people, and feel the need to make up an excuse when they need to let someone down.
- 70% are interested in other cultures and ways of life – how about that for unity?
- 80% procrastinate!
- 85% admit that they doubt themselves sometimes and second-guess their decisions.
- A whopping 96% go through stints where they experience sadness, anxiety, shame or guilt.
The truth is no matter what you’re feeling, thinking, or going through, there is going to be someone out there who is feeling, thinking, or experiencing the same thing. We often feel like our problems isolate us but what they really do is define the human experience. So if you feel isolated, or believe that no one understands you, or knows what you’re going through, you need only reach out. If trauma and tragedy have taught us anything, it’s that no matter how cruel we can be to each other, we can be equally kind. In the worst of times, we come together because we are connected by the same, common thread.