What Is Normal?

It was the day after Halloween when my classes read David Sedaris’s narrative essay “Us and Them.”

You know how when you’re young, everyone else seems weird because they do things differently than your family? Before the students started the story, I proposed the question written by the textbook company:

What is normal?

My seniors talked within table groups and then shared out with the whole class. Several people said something along the lines of “Being normal means not being weird.” Often in school settings, when one student has an opinion, others will jump on the bandwagon rather than form their own.

I can’t stop thinking about the girl who said:

“There’s no such thing as normal because everyone is different. So being different is normal.

Sedaris’s third-grade self spies on his neighbors, the Tomkeys, and he passes juvenile judgement on their lives. The Tomkeys don’t watch TV. They talk during meals. They even slap their knees laughing at each other. They trick-or-treat in homemade costumes. On the wrong day. The day after Halloween.

At the insistence of his mother and with dramatized reluctance, Sedaris must give away his own, hard-earned Halloween candy. Along the way, he pokes fun at himself for being human, judgmental and greedy.  

And I’m still thinking about what it means to be normal.

63 thoughts on “What Is Normal?

  1. Oh my, Crystal, this is a thought-provoking post. It’s also a heartwarming post, knowing that there is at least one teacher out there – you – who considers pursuing this question with a HS class and then goes for it – and that the students engage in the question. Bravo! Alfred Adler’s quote makes for a perfect ending.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In our digital age, I miss the hard copies of the textbook. It always provided a focus like this question. And I can’t stop thinking about this question especially as I’ve faced challenges. What is normal? How have others reacted? How will I react? Some things we will only know through experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your students don’t have textbooks?! Wow, things really have changed, and not all for the better. I’m glad teachers like you are there for them, to guide them in expanding their minds.


      2. My AP Lit kids have an online textbook, but they don’t like using it. The access is clunky. My English IV kids don’t have one at all. Weird, huh? I bet I could find someone who knows where an old class set is. You can find almost anything online though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the way you interact with your class. Thinking about normal is interesting because from one angle we might see ourselves as normal and everyone as weird. But then again we might also see our family as crazy and everyone else’s as normal. Your one student had a good point about everyone being different, so different is normal.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The girl who said different is normal should run for public office. Seriously, our communities need more leaders who bring people together.

    As to your blog writing style, I admire how you stick to one thought, driving it home with illustrations and pictures. A good post is like an elevator pitch: short and on point.

    Kudos to you, Crystal!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Great post! I haven clue what normal is or what it means. ButI do know that my new normal changes as often as I change underclothes. Just trying to make the most out of the life I have been given and praying for more good days than bad days.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Being normal is not sticking out. There’s levels of normalcy:
    Convenience (you expect your child to come out healthy and happy, go to college at 18, and them to have their own families. Have decent friends and not have to take care of them physically when they turn 12 and financially when they turn 20 or whatever. That you’re comfortable with the status quo around you and nothing makes you uncomfortable or angry.)

    As well, as social norms. Cleaning your body when you go outside, sitting at the table when you eat with others, not being loud as you talk, wearing appropriate clothing for your gender, body size, and age, wearing correct clothes from the weather, acting with manners, wearing the appropriate clothes at the appropriate time, and talking at appropriate times about appropriate things.

    People say there’s no normal and no way you should act, but I doubt it. People don’t act like that. They conform to one union because it brings convenience and makes a lot of stuff for them mindlessly easier.

    Half of the stuff we do subconsciously works with reproduction and self preservation. Words are nice, ideas are nice. But too many people know what’s normal and aren’t going to deviate that far from their comfort zone without being grumpy or a dickhead about it or getting outraged or making fun of people/hurting people.

    You can do slight deviations for people, but it likely will still be normal. To quote a very silly/cringy meme, “we live in a society.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, I was including myself in my response.

      I do like how you asked the questions to students and I hope more than two actually went home and thought about it and had intelligent conversations about it after school.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. In class, we talked about social norms and how that varies based on our upbringing and culture.

      Then there are those things that happen in life that force a new normal. I was one of those people who expected my children to be happy, healthy, and self-sufficient after high school. Then paranoid schizophrenia came for my son, and his normal has forever changed. 💔

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve raised an interesting question, Crystal. As I see it, normal is defined by the society/culture that we live in. Yet, as a species worldwide, we humans demonstrate an instinctive and genetic understanding of behaviors that are extremist, beyond normal, for acceptance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even the responses here continue to make me think, Rosaliene. I agree about normalcy being defined by our society/culture. I think I understand what you’re saying about our instinctive, genetic understanding of behavior. I’ll chew on this.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you just introduced me to something. That’s unintentionally my personality a lot. Bitter, saying stuff that’s unnecessary or inappropriate, and not fitting the look or authority to say stuff like that.

      I like seeing how people respond and accept things—sometimes it’s things that I cope with and find happy—but I check it out and hope nobody dislikes me long term.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love that you raised this with your students. I’m sure there was a certain amount of looking down to avoid being selected to speak. When I was that age, I would’ve viewed myself as looking sadly in on everyone else who I thought was normal and being wistful. As an adult, I most certainly would cheer on your student who said different is normal. Good for her. Thanks for sharing Crystal.


    1. One of my favorite things about teaching the older kids is their willingness to discuss. Still, this is a good reminder to me (at the beginning of a new semester) to build in those opportunities.


  8. I guess what the girl said is true- Being different is normal. I think we do expect a degree of individuality in each person but when it goes beyond a certain point, I don’t think people would consider that as normal. So basically individual behaviour but confirms within social behaviour that is considered normal.
    Love the post. Made me think and I love how you engage with your students.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We talked about how at our school, a performing arts high school, our normal is different than the normal at other traditional high schools, for example, with a football team and cheerleaders. So our experiences and communities shape us. These conversations weren’t lengthy, but they impacted me.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A very good exercise and post Crystal. One person’s version of normal is another’s version of weird. We could all do well to get out of “our normal” and see as many new things and places as we can to better help us tolerate other realities. Thanks for sharing and Happy Sunday. Allan


  10. As you’d expect from any broad characterization of human interactions, Crystal, “normal” has wildly different interpretations, both of them valid.

    Those who react most strongly to the term take it to mean, “controlled,” “unimaginative,” “undistinguished” and “dull.” Naturally, very few think this of themselves, and thus defined, nearly all reject the label.

    However, “Normal’s” lonely defense makes its rare champions abnormal, so to speak. How funny is that? Anyway, they recognize the condition’s more appealing traits, among them, modesty, sociability, stoicism, cooperativeness, sensibility, and dependability. Ranked thusly, “Normal” draws many more adherents.

    Naturally, those who abjure “Normal” claim many of the same responses. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Society’s every aspect has its adherents, and the many always disdain the few.


    1. Such a philosophical response here, Keith. It reminds me of being in school so many years ago and trying to understand Nietzsche. That’s probably not the best comparison from what I remember about Nietzsche (not a lot). Basically I’m just name-dropping. Isn’t it normal to pretend to know more than we do?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At least you approached Nietzsche, Crystal. From what little I learned, I didn’t care much for him. Actually, I almost never think of him. No offense, Friedrich.

        Of course, you’ll tell this reminds you of Barbara Harold’s famous quip. I’ll nod absently and will mumble something.

        Then you’ll tell me she doesn’t exist. You just made up the name.

        See what you mean, Crystal?

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m not sure what it means to be normal but I do know what it means to be different so I guess that would make normal the opposite of different. But I guess it’s not so different when everything else is going against the grain. 🫨🤔🫣


  12. This is a great question. I think it is funny that in the 60’s and 70’s nonconformity was important especially to the youth (although not conforming to the rebellious version of nonconformity was frowned on). Now, young people want everyone to walk lockstep and have the government/media view on everything. Being different, having a different opinion–unacceptable!


    1. I have to say the kids at my school are mostly open-minded when it comes to having respect for other people’s opinions. I try to give them opportunities to prove this. They often need to hear contrasting opinions to help them form their own.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Kids who grew up with cell phones in their hands seem inclined to never want to be independent, always checking in with each other, while those of us who grew up pre-cell phones know we want to be independent. Hence the desire to be weird. At least that’s my take on it.


  14. You teach high schoolers David Sedaris? Last fall, my son, a high school senior, went to see Sedaris read at a local theater with us. I was proud of how much he enjoyed it. He even asked me to recommend some stories. I don’t think he’s actually read any yet, but it’s the thought that counts. I absolutely adore Sedaris, and it was by reading him that I got the idea that maybe I could also write.


  15. You are my hero Crystal! You simply rock the classroom, your students are lucky to have you as their teacher! What is normal? I think we are all struggling with some sort of trial or tribulation. Knowing this allows us to realize we’re not alone in our pain, and maybe this connects us in a way. Hugs, C


    1. I just saw the Jonah Hill documentary Stutz, about Hill’s psychiatrist and coping strategies. He said something similar. “There are three aspects of reality: pain, uncertainty, and constant work.” And there was another part about our connection to others. On Netflix. Highly recommended. Blog post marinating now. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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