07 February 2010

Normal, Average, and Foxy Business

Or Coming out - Epilogue

February 2010 has started much milder than the end of 2009 and January 2010. I woke up yesterday morning to the sight of a pheasant going about his pheasanty business on the green that my bedroom window overlooks. Spring may be coming.

I often see pheasants there on weekend mornings, and more often than not I actually see several of them together, the most was last spring when seven of them (hens and cocks) were inspecting the green for over an hour. This is one reason I opted to live on the edge of a village rather than in the Big City: I looking at the spread of miles and miles of countryside from my sitting room, I like the sight of greenery, of fields, of trees as I commute morning and evening – during at least 8 months of the year, as in the dead of winter leaving and returning in the dark is unfortunately my lot.

But January did not want to let go of its reputation for coldest month ever. The last weekend of it offered nights with a sharpness that reminded us Winter was not gone or dead and buried yet! Thus Sunday morning found my village encased in a thick crust of frost that did not melt until well after noon.

Though I do not like mornings, I love weekend mornings, when I can laze in bed with a book and a large pot of coffee, leisurely feasting on both. So there I was mid-morning last Sunday when, as I refilled my jumbo cup, I looked out the window to check on the frost, and I saw this:

He took his time, patrolling the green in a seemingly systematic way, probably picking up scents, trails, and proof of various prey’s activities.

Being in the country, this should not have surprised me. Yet it did: though as I said I have often seen pheasants in this same spot, this is the first time I have witnessed a fox there. Because, contrary to what we may think, foxes do not particularly like the country. They much prefer cities. In fact the highest concentration of fox population in Ireland is in Dublin. In particular they are found in the greatest numbers in very specific areas of the city, where there is plenty of food to scavenge and lots of large gardens with hedges and bushes to hide in.

So what we think as “normal” (e.g. foxes live in the countryside, there is no wildlife in the cities) is very much a false premise. How many such thoughts of Normality are erroneous? Do we confuse “Normal” with “Expected”, or do we confuse “Normal” with “Average”?

Some months ago I found myself spending some time with a group of people with various types of disabilities, and we came to discuss the perception of Disability, and then moved on to what is a “normal” person. One man there reported on a simple study that for him had put a lot of things into perspective. I do not have all the precise details of this study, nor who carried it out, etc... So what follows does not purport to be highly scientific. However what I remember is this: the study took 100 “normal” people, e.g. representing a cross-section of society and not claiming to have any disability. They were asked 7 simple questions concerning daily tasks, such as for example “Can you read or drive without the assistance of aids such as glasses or contact lenses?” – meaning: do you have “normal” vision? Anyone who answered NO to any one of the seven questions was directed to one corner of the room, the others who answered YES to all seven questions were sent to another corner. Once all 100 people were thus questioned, the YES corner had an impressive total of... two.

Just two people were “normal”, the other 98 needed the aid or assistance of an implement or a devise of some sort to carrying out at least one daily task we all take for granted. This truly puts the notion of “normality” into perspective. And it brought me to wonder if what we call “normal” shouldn’t be redefined as “average”. Take vision: if we expect most people to have “normal” vision: e.g. to see near and far without the need for any assistance; If on average 50% of people can read without glasses, and if on average 50% of people can drive without them, how many require glasses in neither case? Logically, it could well be 25%. This minority becomes the norm. Our society is constructed on our perception of The Norm, on averages that we conveniently forget to combine.

The over-use of “the average person” has brought us such spread of aberrations as:
- exam marking-schemes (retaining zillions of one-liner facts and figures and regurgitating them at lighting writing-speed can favour only one type of student),
- fashion ideals (in reality, how many people look with those models?),
- slip-screen TV programmes - ask someone who is dyslexic to follow a news report while simultaneously reading the name of the interviewee with all his credentials in one corner of the screen and important facts bearing value to the interview at the bottom of it, both going at different speeds, and his or her reaction you may help you to understand what I am talking about.

I never considered myself “abnormal”. However I no longer consider myself “normal”. I see me as me. I still would not advertise in a working environment my reading / writing / sequencing / retaining-information peculiarities, but I have been much more at ease with them in the last year or so. And when it comes down to it, Dyslexia is only one aspect, along with other facets of myself, of what makes me... me ;-)

As Elbog mentioned in his comment to my last post, Cathal’s diagnostic has certainly shifted my perceptive on what I may view as The Norm, to an extent that I often stop myself, as I am about to utter what I would have previously thought of as the truth, and soften my thought by rephrasing it. In fact, the word “normal” is on the endangered-words list of my vocabulary. When trying to “educate” people around me I never say “normal children do this, or have that, where as children with DS...” Instead I say “Children with DS tend to... and children who do not have DS tend to...”


Like foxes thriving in cities.


Mel said...

I think 'normal' is overrated. Who wants to be normal? Sounds boring to me!

Jeffrey Goble said...

I've been trying and failing to think of something else to say aside from "Beautiful Post."

jazzygal said...

Lovely post Nan P. Love the pictures and I love my book, tea and toast in bed too...when I can do it!!

The age old question...what is normal?? I stay clear too and if use it it's always with quotation marks!! xx Jazzy

Lisamaree said...

Who wants normal? Otherness is Awesome xx