Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.


Normality and Too Many Parenthetical Remarks

So I found this great article in Psychology Today…

(Do we have to discuss again my taste in magazines? Fine. Glamour, Wired, Real Simple, Psychology Today and Architectural Digest. I know. This is me.)

Anyway… in “What Is Normal?” psychiatrist Peter Kramer says, “[If] difference confers some degree of vulnerability to dysfunction, then we will find that we are all defective in one fashion or another.” I like that. And to back it up, he quotes the mid-20th-century Cornell Midtown Manhattan Study

(although I fault the logic of anyone claiming that midtown Manhattan is the picture of normal citizenry)

(and yes, that was a pot shot…)

Anyway, the study found that ” [o]Only 18.5 percent of those investigated were ‘free enough of emotional symptoms to be considered well’.”

Let’s think about that. Even if midtown Manhattan were unusually full of oddballs (and I don’t think it is) the point stands: the vast majority of people aren’t normal. Normal is not normal. What’s normal is being abnormal.

But wait. Then that means… that we all trying so hard… to be more like 18.5 percent of the population. Why? Especially because I guess that the 18.5 percent are the people who can’t hold a conversation. The ones who don’t draw the obscure connections. The ones who don’t make the random callback jokes. The ones who don’t have the great ideas. The ones who don’t get the giggles, who don’t break down into tears, who don’t see the absurdity and joy in every minute of every day, who don’t make the world better by being in it.

Yeah, that’s probably “normal”.

No thanks.


Neil Crump

They are also fabulous and witty :+)

Sarah Morgan

It did show a normal distribution – but the problem is that we don’t think of the bulk of the bell curve as “normal” when it IS. We think of the one tiny tail on the side as “normal” when it’s anything but. Aspirational, maybe, depending, but certainly not normal.

And Americans ARE noisy and fat. 🙂

Neil Crump

First of all you can’t have too many parenthetical remarks (you just can’t:+)).

What an interesting post. I hate the idea of being normal and I am delighted to learn that dysfunction is the norm.

One thought, didn’t this study just show a normal distribution of abnormality? Few people are genuine outliers in the conventional sense of the word but most of us don’t fit the norm – that’s what makes it a normal distribution.

Being normal is like national stereotypes – somehow they fit but as soon as you think about it you can almost immediately break what is considered normal…

Brits have a stiff upper lip and are restrained but some of the most flamboyant people I know herald from the UK.

Americans are brash, loud (and overweight) but some of the most thoughtful, calm (and athletic) people I know are from the US.

The French: Arrogant and difficult to work with is the stereotype but they are some of my favourite people and they are down to earth and are great colleagues.

Germans: The stereotype is rigid and unaccommodating but the most funny and ‘out there’ people that I know are German.

Anyhow… most of the people that I know are emotional dysfunctional – but it always seems like a revelation when someone new that you meet let’s slip a personal factoid of dysfunction. It is odd how the aspiration is to be that 18.5 percent which is likely to be unobtainable (based on the stat) for most people and is frankly will make for a boring person.

I say ‘hail emotional dysfunction’, bring it on.

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