Accepting there is no normal
Definition of normal according to The Oxford Dictionary: 1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
There are 7.99 billion humans on earth at this current moment. And, not a single one is the same as the other. It's really crazy if you think about it for long enough. Not a single two people are the same. So, if you've been having "am I normal?" thoughts recently, then the answer is "no" you are definitely not!
As fascinating and extraordinary as this fact is, it does present problems to the human race. After all, as each of us is so different and 'abnormal', when we mix together, there are sure to be clashes.
For example, there are those of us who think it's normal to eat curry for breakfast (guilty as charged!), those who think it's normal to play video games for 12 hours every day, those who think it's normal to wake up and do a 10k run before 6 am, and those who think it's normal to drive their car to work each day with their music on full blast while smoking a couple of cigarettes. It's likely that you think that at least one of these things is 'not' normal according to your personal norms, however, who are you to say that it's not right for others to feel that these 'are' normal?
Of course, there is a need for basic norms to be in place in order for us all to live a safe and socially responsible life i.e. it's never normal to drop litter, take someone else's possesions, act violently or aggressively towards other humans or animals, or fart in a busy tube carriage. These are just basic human taboos. However, when it comes to our personal behavioral norms, the lines become blurry and there is so much room for disagreement and arguments.
For example, I have a real phobia of people chewing loudly or eating with their mouths open. It's not 'normal' for me to act like this and if someone is acting like this near me, then I begin to feel annoyed or frustrated. However, for the person chewing, this is just a norm of how they eat. They will think nothing of it and therefore might think that I am totally weird and out of order if I explain how I feel and that I feel upset about their behaviour. So, who is in the right, and what is the right way to handle the situation?
Realising and accepting the norms of others
Our culture and background have a lot to do with what we accept as the norm. It's not normal to gift flowers if you live in China or to eat sandwiches without a knife and fork in Norway. More frequent travel and social media have taught us to be more accepting and open to the cultures and social norms of other societies, however, these norms go much deeper when you get to an individual human level. And, if we don't accept that others' norms are different, but just as important as our own, then we are doomed to fail as a society and also we are bound to live a life that is full of frustration, anger, and judgment.
Acceptance and empathy are two VITAL skills that we need to nurture as humans. They are essential, yet often so hard to master. We all have a duty to our fellow earth dwellers to continually work on our emotions and try better to control them so we are both accepting and empathic the majority of the time.
Acceptance is the ability to see that others have a right to be their own unique selves with their own feelings, thoughts, habits, opinions, routines, problems, and more. When you accept people for who they are on an individual human level, you let go of your desire to change them or be upset by their behavoiurs.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was out at a party with some friends, and although I was having a nice time and enjoying catching up with them, I was ready to leave and go home just after midnight. I'd been travelling with work that day and also was not really in the mood to drink loads, so booked an Uber for about half past midnight. I knew some of my friends would be out until 4 am, and I knew some of them might have thought that I should have stayed longer seeing as we don't get to catch up that often anymore, but I really was just ready to leave at that time. Despite our norms when going out being very different, there shouldn't have been any reason for anyone to have felt awkward or annoyed, right? If I accepted that my friends wanted to stay out and party longer, and they accepted that I was tired and ready to go home, then how could there possibly be a problem? So, why did I feel like there was a totally weird atmosphere when I left? Or was I just overthinking it?
If there are acceptance issues between friends who've known and loved each other for years and years, then how can we be expected to accept others who we don't know or have no feelings for whatsoever?
Well, another important part of acceptance is letting others feel the way they want to feel. To let them be different and think differently from you. Once we understand this truth, we can stop trying to change them into the people we want them to be and start accepting them for who they are. Upon reflection, if my friends felt I was leaving too early from the party, then I accept that this was just because they wanted me to stay for longer. Therefore, I should've felt flattered that night, instead of feeling judged or targeted.
Acceptance of others’ feelings is not easy, but I am adding it right to the top of my priorities list. I really feel that improvements in this area will help improve my friendships, relationships, mental health, and career progression. It's most definitely something that I am working on daily to improve on.
Here are a few things that I have noted in my quest toward empathy perfection...
1. People rarely see things your way
Have you ever tried to help a friend with a problem they were having, but felt like no matter what you said, you couldn’t get through to them? Well, I hate to break it to you, but the problem was less likely to be with the person, but with the way you were trying to impose your own advice or ideas. We don't usually actually even need advice from others. We just need reassurance and acceptance for a pre-determined answer that we've usually decided upon already ourselves.
For example, if a friend comes to you and says "I think I'm going to quit my job at the agency because it's making me really stressed and anxious" she probably doesn't want to hear "I really think you should reconsider your decision because the job market is so tough out there and you will struggle to find something else'. That will just make her doubt her own decisions and perhaps even feel resentment toward you. Instead, what she might want to hear is "It sounds like you are really struggling and that you have really thought about what could improve your quality of life. I'm proud of you for considering your options."
Allowing someone to have their feelings without you telling them how they should feel is all part of the acceptance/empathy goal.
2. It would be SO boring if we were all the same
How utterly boring would life be if everyone was exactly the same? Can you actually even imagine it? It's like something out of a sci-fi thriller. So, why do we crave people to be similar to us with the same views?
When my sister told me that she wasn't really bothered about being part of my life because we "have nothing in common" I knew that was just a stupid excuse. Why do we even have to have something in common if we can accept each other for who we are individually and appreciate all the quirks and characteristics that come with it?
That said, even though we know that our differences are for the best, sometimes we feel uncomfortable with them. We either try to change people who are different or we avoid or ignore them. Or make excuses for why we can't get along with them.
The next time you are around someone who appears to be your polar opposite, you could challenge yourself to get to know that person better. Find out more about him or her and I reckon you’ll come out of the conversation feeling that you’re not as different as perhaps you first thought. You might even feel closer to the person, and as a result, you will be that much better able to empathise with them.
3. Noone is flawless
Probably not even Blake Lively, although in my eyes, she's literally the Queen! But it is really easy to look at others and point out their flaws. Some people even get off on this and turn it into a social occasion while enjoying a glass of wine with friends. Now, that's just mean.
Sometimes, however, we judge and criticise people without even realising we're doing it. Or we do it in such a controlled environment i.e with a partner or best friend, that we don't even feel like it really counts as criticism. I'm as guilty of this as much as the next person to be honest.
A way more challenging response in these circumstances, where we don't see eye to eye with someone's choices or norms, however, would be to point out the good in them. For example "Wow, that ladies' blue hair colour is so bold. Good on her for being different" would be a far better comment than another, far more judgy and negative one.
When we accept others as they are - 100% original and individual - it means that we understand that they are doing the best that they can do. Remember, if they could do any better, they would.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And we can never be truly content if we are constantly comparing ourselves to others or others to ourselves.
Instead, let's try to accept that each person is on a different path in life and accept that there really is no normal.