INsight/ Are You Normal?

Photo by szefei/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by szefei/iStock / Getty Images

Manila, 14 March 2018 — Am I normal? Psychologists keep hearing this question from people of all ages. So what's the right answer?

To start with, in our world today, normal is not necessarily something you would want to be, explains Keith Witt, a psychologist and author, on Integral Life. Too many people are obese, he reminds us, and suffer from health problems, stress at work, and poor relationships. That should not be normal and yet, looking at the statistics, it sadly is becoming the norm.

Dr. Witt points out that we should aim, enthusiastically, to be abnormally healthy, abnormally loving, abnormally successful, and he stimulates us to add our own adverbs to that list. He encourages us to double click on the question. Is normal really what we should aim for?

He also invites us to look deeper into why people ask the question in the first place.

We know from science that the need to feel a sense of belonging to a group is a basic human need. The anxiety to fit in is often experienced most acutely during our high school years. Yet the story doesn't end there. As Dr. Witt explains, "Am I normal?" is the question that he has been asked most frequently in his 40-year career.  

And for good reasons. 

As our knowledge and consciousness expand and we keep growing in our ability to deal with complex life challenges, our frame of reference is being stretched continuously. That is often an unsettling or downright uncomfortable experience. What used to feel normal can now feel different.

That sense of challenge and discomfort can also be reflected back to us from the company we keep. If the prevailing worldview of the group we belong to no longer matches our own growing frame of reference, tension develops from cognitive dissonance. Our sense of belonging gets disturbed. Suddenly, it seems that language of the group we belonged to no longer strikes a chord with us. What has happened is that our language, our worldview, has evolved.

Such an experience can be felt when we open ourselves to expanding our network and engaging with people who do not think like us. Consider, for example, reaching out to people with a different political view, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, or to those on the opposite side in a societal or armed conflict. Once we listen and manage to develop an understanding, and perhaps even a caring attitude, we might wonder "Am I normal?" We are triggered again to grow.

Whether we are just starting to become aware of our choices in life, or are seasoned navigators who find ourselves challenged by a more complex life challenge, our answer to the question "Am I normal?" matters greatly.

If we can make ourselves live with answering "No" and tell ourselves that it is fine to be considered abnormal, we are creating space to adopt what Carol Dweck, a psychologist, calls the Growth Mindset. We recognize that cognitive dissonance is a knock on the door to tell us that it is time to grow, to stretch our frame of reference, and to learn the new language that goes with it.

I see this happening in leaders I work with when they are learning to influence others for positive change in the Work In All Colors training. They are discovering their challenge to keep growing themselves. With a growth mindset, their language changes as they embrace a bigger frame of reference and stretch their worldview.

That observation is consistent with the research of Professor Clare Graves and his students, who discovered how people can respond to their evolving life conditions by navigating seven different worldviews which, for ease of use, have become known by the colors Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Turquoise.

Are you normal? By now, you should have an idea how to answer and move forward.

The early meaning of ‘weird’ refers to people who are in control of their own fate.
— Corey deVos