On Being “Normal”

Millions of people live scripted lives, carrying out roles of normal functioning individuals socialized to suppress whatever makes them unique or stand out too much. Some people enjoy this performance and are quite content with being a star in this movie, taking directions from their family, friends, employers, the media, culture, and society in general.

Many carry out these performances to preserve their lives and social presentation, along with preventing what could be deadly repercussions for any form of deviance.

Many adhere to their culture’s definition of normal because it confers benefits in terms of seemingly pleasant social interactions, employment, and approval.
For others, being told to put on this veil of normalcy for the sake of social preservation is pure torture. It makes us sick inside to have to follow a plan or script set out for us. We walk through our days feeling incomplete and trapped in what we consider lies that people have created for us, lies that we have created for ourselves.

Many of us knew from an early age that we were different and understood that it wasn’t always a good thing in society’s eyes.

In fact, children recognize and understand social norms as early as 2 or 3 years old*. In an experiment with puppets conducted by Marco Schmidt and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, along with Hannes Rokoczy of the University of Göttingen, 2 and 3-year-olds objected when puppets performed actions different from what they had seen adults doing. Furthermore, these norms are not necessarily taught. Children usually learn norms by observing and following adults who expect life to be performed in a specific way.

Therefore, some of us have learned to hide or suppress our uniqueness in fear of coming across as a deviant who will eventually become rejected.

But for most of us, hiding what makes us different is close to impossible; as a result, we risk experiencing familial and social rejection. We get plastered with labels, used mostly in a derogatory manner, that forcibly categorize our uniqueness or eccentricities.

In other words, we’re punished for making others feel uncomfortable and confused by our behavior or identity, which may or may not have been self-assigned.

For all our trumpeting of individualism here in the United States, our society still punishes and marginalizes those who stand outside of what’s considered “normal”: white, straight, cis-gendered (gender matches sex assigned at birth), able-bodied, pro-authoritarian, pro-patriarchal ideals, pro-capitalism, pro-assimilation, pro-assigned gender roles, pro-groupthink, pro-consumerism, and pro-white supremacy.

People falling outside of this range are often encouraged to change their ways to be accepted by the majority who are given the title “normal”. These calls for assimilation are bullshit. The truth is that we “abnormal” ones will never be truly accepted or understood by those considered “normal” or adhere to being “normal”.

Depriving ourselves of our uniqueness or identity to become something we are not brings more harm than good. This forced erasure censors our creativity and voices, and stilts our ability to confront our present realities and usher change into our world.

For those of us who have no choice but to play the game of appearing normal, we feel smothered, chained, and sometimes even alone in our performances as the people we interact with contradict or vehemently oppose ideas or identities that we support or identify with on a personal, social, or political level.

We are not allowed to express ourselves openly due to our fears of social isolation, financial vulnerability, or even violence. For those of us whose situations are less extreme, but no less poignant, we may admonish ourselves for not being braver or stronger enough in taking advantage of our more open-minded environments.

Such self-criticism can reinforce negative thinking that makes us less vocal and active in issues or projects needing our participation and strengths. We may erroneously believe that our silence in regards to our identities or ideals delegitimizes us from taking a stand in issues of gross injustices. We may wrongly believe we cannot participate in resistances to restore human dignity to marginalized and oppressed groups.

We find ourselves living two lives: the one on the outside and the one on the inside. If we’re lucky to find understanding souls, for a time, we may be able to align our outside lives to match our lives on the inside.

Bravery can manifest itself in multiple ways instead of being confined to the Western mainstream idea of being loud and open for everyone to see, admire, reject, or criticize. Small, accumulating acts of courage in customized personal resistances are valuable. Each person’s familial, religious, cultural, or spiritual experience does not necessarily mirror the mainstream images widely portrayed and distributed.

Even in spaces where outsiders, rejects, and the marginalized come together, it’s important not to enforce and applaud only one brand of bravery or resistance. We should encourage a multiplicity of differences, and seek to understand each unique life that comes in our presence without rushing to shut a person down or force them to change.

Life grows through difference. Change grows through difference. A better and more open world grows through difference.

I’ve been brave enough to upset both allies and opponents, becoming more of who I need to be at the present moment and not following anyone’s vision of how I should be. Choosing this way is far from easy and is sometimes fraught with frustration, confusion, loneliness, impatience, failure, self-doubt, depression, pain, and discouragement. It’s a difficult journey, but a necessary one to take to peel away the layers of false identities created by others while growing.

It’s one of the few ways to reach the true core of our true selves and figure out where we need to take ourselves next. Of course the core of our inmost identities will contain influences of our upbringing and our environments growing up, but somehow or another we’ve developed our own ideas of what matters most to us that differs drastically from anyone else’s; it’s something akin to a fingerprint.

We won’t reach these oftentimes buried ideas or identities without doing the hard work required to survive being thrown out into the wolves called the real world and society.

We can shield ourselves from this hard work or ignore it completely by following the scripts handed to us. That way we avoid the painful processes of undergoing the fiery baptism of confronting our childhood demons, figuring out our true core values, understanding our fiercest passions, wandering in the deserts and wastelands of confusion and instability, and developing the strategy to achieve our dreams.

In eschewing this difficult path, we accrue financial rewards and stability quickly, prestige, honor, and other accolades from our satisfied loved ones and society.

But the human soul is hardly ever satisfied. Sooner or later, it demands far greater things from us than wealth, prestige, and praise. It tortures us for living lives that go against its true essence, something different for each person, but with overlapping similarities. Our minds persistently present us with questions about the why of everything going on all around us. Meaning and purpose knock relentlessly on our doors despite our desires to ignore or dismiss them.

We can’t hide forever unless we are content with leading empty lives all the way to the grave. Some accept doing it and some have done it happily. But for the passionate dreamer, this life is impossible. This may be both the curse and blessing of the passionate dreamer.

It’s okay for supporters and loved ones to imagine highly successful lives for us or to envision futures in which we make significant impacts on the world. It’s not okay when they want us to follow a particular path or box us in how we should go about accomplishing these amazing feats.

We all deserve the respect of forging our own lives without our loved ones or allies shaming us for doing things outside of what they think is best. We get enough grief from our opponents and society without having to deal with the psychological drama of navigating spaces where we expect to receive love and support.
If we choose to be different in the countless multiples way there are to be different, we need to remember to be patient with ourselves. We will stumble and make mistakes.

Our decisions won’t always be the best, and we’ll sometimes follow advice that hurts more than helps. We may also ignore advice that might have helped more than hurt. Our eyesight might be poor so we may miss great opportunities or fail to see the failure waiting at the end of ventures we’ve decided to pursue.

We may have days when we feel hopeless and directionless, looking up at ceilings with no answers or guidance. Days we feel broken, useless, or frauds. We may find ourselves questioning every act we make and cursing the universe or God for our rotten luck. We may find ourselves waiting for something beautiful to happen instead of realizing that we ourselves are responsible for making something beautiful happen.

We may find ourselves with little to no patience and may consider following the script handed to us. After all, it’s so easy and promises the stability lacking in our lives. We may walk through our lives unsure and hurt by all of these feelings, feelings for which there might be no escape from. We might even feel that being stuck in limbo is our fate.

But it is not our fate. Our lives our made richer for being passionate dreamers. We may not see it now or even believe or accept it. But we are made stronger, bolder, and more open minded, maybe even more lovable and accepting of difference.

We may not see it now, but on the other side awaits the rewards of our labor of passion. If we are more introspective and matured, we already experience and see the rewards of our passion. We understand and accept the beauty of our differences and the difficult process of becoming our higher selves.

Although our loved ones, opponents, and society are blind to it, we have put on glasses giving us a clear vision of what awaits. Sometimes our minds are already there, waiting for our physical bodies to catch up and experience the beauty and magic of living our ideal lives.

We envision new worlds, unaware of how our decisions influence and impact the people around us, bring us all closer together as a family of sorts, hoping to create a better reality for both present and future lives. The world needs passionate dreamers, those who are different, weird, quirky, eccentric, marginalized, oppressed, or othered in any way by the dominant culture.

We should let ourselves be ourselves in whatever ways we know we can or are willing to be. We have to be for the sake of a more open world where more and more people can live lives fulfilling their deepest dreams and passions. A world where more people can reach self-determination and fulfillment, reaching further into the depths of their souls to uncover meaning.

Passion is beautiful. Passion is ugly. Passion is freedom. Passion is pain. Passion is peace. Passion is war. Passion is life. Passion is difference.

We cannot relinquish what makes us different because our difference is our strength as humans.

*Nair, Drishya (2012) “Children Understand Social Norms Very Early” Current Directions in Psychological Science. August 2012.

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Be sure to look out for my e-book, The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit, coming out soon!


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