Monday, May 29, 2006

Analyze This

The secret to being normal
by Nick van der Leek

How much sex is normal? How thin is thin enough? How fit, or sexy, or strong, or brave, is normal?
The latest X-Men movie – The Last Stand, is eXcellent. Barry Ronge’s review in the latest Sunday Times Magazine hits the nail on the head: The movie is about whether we ought to be normal or not. And if we are normal, do we wish we weren’t? It’s a strange film, because there’s no super arch enemy. It’s really just about this psychology: if you’re different, do you try to fit in? If you’re special do you fear it or do you find a way to live with it, to celebrate being special?

Not so fast with your answer there. I went to a school – and a school of thought – where sticking out was pretty dangerous. If you pulled it off, sure, you got the reward. But you had to be careful how you stood out. And what you stood for. Because if you stood out for the ‘wrong’ reasons, you got punished for it. I stuck out a lot. It was based mostly – I believe – on the most incidental of things: appearances. It was also based on attitude. But not all of it was on purpose. I wore external braces, and that aspect certainly was accidental. Like Rogue, in X-Men, I would gladly have given up something, something precious even, to get rid of the braces. It wasn’t that I wanted to fit in; I just didn’t want to stick out. Sometimes when you stick out you become target practice.

But that’s not the full story. Sometimes you want to be noticed for the right reasons, instead of because you’ve got funny teeth and wires poking around your face. Recently I went on a cycling tour with 60 people, mostly students, more or less half guys, and the other half girls. In 12 days you become very aware of the social dynamic that develops. Some people start to group with certain other people. Some people just hang with the people they knew coming into the experience. Some grow more confident. Some start off confident and then become less certain of themselves.
At the end of the tour they choose the person with the best legs, they vote for the person who would make the best husband or wife, and there are a few other nominations. They also vote for the ‘Shocker’, the person who does some of the craziest stuff.

I won an award (I won’t say what for), and I was glad I did. I felt a strong sense of wanting to be acknowledged for something. I wouldn’t have minded the Best Legs vote. As I say, I was glad I got an award, not in an attention seeking way, but in a way that simply shows that you have made an impression, that people notice and respond to you, that you are not invisible, ordinary, or boring.

There are people who go to extremes to make sure they are none of those things. Sometimes they are drama queens or overly aggressive thugs. Sometimes they are all bluster. It’s also the reason there are 12 banned South African athletes (all using the same steroid), the reason make up and plastic surgery exists. People want to be special, and they’ll take risks to make sure they’re successful.

As Ronge says: when people complain that others around them aren’t ‘normal’, it’s really just racism, ageism, sexism or some or other kind of intolerance. In reality, there is no normal. We are all different, and those differences make us unique, and special. Of course, some are more special than others. Not all (perhaps no one else) can win the Tour de France 7 times. Not many of us will celebrate 50 year wedding anniversaries. We’re not all morning people. Not all of us can be artists, or athletes. Why, because we’re all different.

The great truth is that all of us can be we who we are. More important than how special or not we are, is how much we accept ourselves. Once we can do that, we can start accepting those around us, and enjoying the best we have to offer each other. The secret to being normal is that none of us are normal. We’re all special.

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