When I was in college, I took a course called “Abnormal Psychology.” The movie Young Frankenstein has a great scene where Igor admits that the brain he brought the scientist was from someone named “Abby Normal.” There are those who resist using the label ‘abnormal’ because it connotes deviance and elevates ‘normal’ to a prized value.
But while the word ‘normal’ has made a comeback as weariness of the changes wrought by COVID-19 builds, it has also been the subject of controversy: “if by ‘normal’ you mean a return to systems of racism and oppression, I don’t want to return to ‘normal’.” And in other contexts, “normal” is disdained — even though 90% of the population are heterosexual, “heteronormative” thinking is to be avoided due to the negative impact on the remaining 10%.
So let me define my terms.
- A “norm” is is a commonly agreed value or behavior that becomes standard and followed. Norms generally fall within a range to be considered as such.
- Something is “normal” if it lies within the range of accepted norms or practices.
For example, it is a norm that adults be clothed in public. The range of acceptable clothing has widened considerably since my mother first dared to wear anything but a dress in public — even when hanging clothes on the line in the back yard. And while the range has widened, there are points on the extremes (visible underwear, e.g.) that cause some to say, “That’s not normal.”
Here are some things that by the terms I’ve defined above are now normal: wearing a mask in public, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, rancor in politics, bias in news media, etc. And yet there is no common agreement that these situations should continue as normal.
I suggest that one of the crises our country is facing is absence of consensus around what should be “normal” because we are struggling to define our shared values.
- What do we value most in our public interactions? Safety, courtesy, friendliness? (BTW, I value mask-wearing right now because I value all the above.)
- How do we best honor our country while still advocating for her shortcomings to be addressed?
- Do politicians value the well-being of their constituents more than that of their party and/or their own electoral prospects? Do we/they still value civility? (Politicians have their own definition of “truth” – they all say they value it.)
- As to the news media, do we prefer factual information or a well-crafted narrative that reinforces our own biases?
I long for a return to shared values. That is the normalcy I desire.
I began this blog as an encouraging word to colleagues on the front lines of ministry. This post has not been of that ilk, but it introduces what I shall be sharing in coming weeks. As we react to the current situation, I think it is as important as ever for us to have clarity around the values that drive our decisions. My next few posts will be about the values I hold dear.
As always, I am praying for y’all.