It may sometimes irritate when people describe this or that person as normal, or it may also happen as abnormal. What does it mean to be normal? And what is the definition of the norm? Even science cannot provide a proper answer to the question.
In everyday well-regulated life we do not really need to know the range of the norm. But the issue immediately gets more important as soon as we feel something is wrong with the health. And at this very time we want to know answers to questions that we have never asked before. Is permanent drowse a norm or a symptom of some disease? Is anal sex a norm or perversion? In a word, we need to know what the norm is to get a clear picture of the world around us.
Lawyers are lucky to have the norm consisting of laws that they created with their own efforts. Those who study natural sciences are in a more complicated situation as the norm never depends upon their efforts. The most important thing for them is to understand what the norm is and describe it. However, it turns out that none of the existing sciences has definite parameters of the norm. They provide just a set of approaches to distinguish the norm.
Academician Nikolay Amosov proposed the notion ‘the amount of health’ meaning that the amount may be higher or lower within the norm. The amount of health is the sum of reserve capacities of the organism. But the amount of health looses its importance if it is not connected with the quality of health. Years of secured and stable life dedicated to maintaining the physical form only indicate that the quality of health is really low. Academician Amosov thinks that human’s ability to create and love indicate his high quality of health. Often, health is described as absence of diseases.
Social sciences stick to the principle that characteristics typical of the majority are considered the norm. The orientation to the majority is perfect from the evolutional point of view. The majority consists of individuals with good genes and good adaptability to the environment who went through the natural selection.
But the issue is very disputable from the point of view of perception. It is known that masses are simple-minded, well-controlled and despise rara avis. The majority cannot reconcile to the fact that it makes mistakes more often than it supposes. This fact explains why democratic regimes often fail and for what reason jury trials pronounce erroneous judgments.
Another point of view treats the norm as the ideal that many people still fail to achieve. There is a theoretic model of an ideal human that is called the norm and it is compared to every particular human being. It may happen so that none of the existing human beings will correspond to the model. Let us imagine an ideal maple leaf and then compare the ideal to those we can pick up under maple trees. This is amazing that no leaf of those that we picked up under the tree will look very much like the ideal maple leaf! But this does not mean at all that leaves different from the ideal maple leaf belong to mutant maple trees.
Many psychologists apply the notion of the norm to mature and self-actualized personalities.
Abraham Maslow conducted an experiment with participation of mentally healthy self-actualized humans with high intelligence and an outstanding social status to single out the characteristics typical of all of them. According to Abraham Maslow, self-actualized successful people with high intelligence are characterized with the following criteria:
They accept themselves and others as they are;
They are simple and spontaneous in communication;
They perfectly realize their calling, and also can turn their hobbies into professions;
They have unprejudiced perception of life;
These people can establish deep relations with people by their side;
They perfectly distinguish their goals and methods to achieve them;
These are highly creative people;
Philosophic sense of humor;
These people are anxious for public interests and wish to help people.
But sometimes, clear definitions of the norm may be bad for the society as it may decide to exterminate everything the does not correspond the norm.
In Sparta, children with corporal defects and also weak and unhealthy children were pushed off a steep mountain. The politics guaranteed that Sparta would have strong and narrow-minded citizens that perfectly suited for military campaigns only. Sparta needed no geniuses. But the natural selection of the strongest humans can be erroneous also. A great military leader and strategist Alexander Suvorov was a weak and unhealthy boy, and doctors said he would not live long. But Suvorov devoted much effort to develop from a weak child to a hard-working military leader.
Another really atypical instance tells us about an absolutely poor family with two starving children where the father suffers from syphilis (read article) and the mother has mental disorders and had six abortions within her life. It is highly likely that a new pregnancy will end in birth of an abnormal child. But miracles do happen! That new child was Beethoven, the universally-known genius.
All attempts to give the definition of the norm are a double-edged weapon. On the one hand, a clear definition of the norm will make easier the work of those who deal with pathologies. On the other hand, as soon as a clear-cut definition of the norm appears it inevitably leads to totalitarianism. In Hitler’s Germany all who did not match the psychiatric concept of normality that existed at that time were subject to compulsory lobotomy. The group of operated patients consisted not only of those having mental disorders but even homosexuals.
The history of psychiatry tells us about some attempts to abolish the notion of pathology and treat any deviation just as a variant of the norm. The movement “anti-psychiatry” that existed in the 1960s would have been more sensational than present-day demonstrations of political correctness.
A therapeutic commune Kingsley Hall for mentally diseased patients opened in London in 1964. The commune founders believed that people having any psychiatric diagnoses were repressed in the society. They said such people were deprived of their rights and freedom, were forced to live some definite way of living and were restricted in movements. The commune was meant for such victims of social repressions where they could live within their own small world. At that, the difference between the patients and the doctors in Kingsley Hall was sometimes very thin. Kingsley Hall existed as a hospital just for several years and then turned into a den, the home of drug-addiction and prostitution. The few instances of recovery at Kingsley Hall were never explained.
Sometimes it seems that we should better have no clear definition of the norm. It is quite enough to know that the norm does exist and is rather widely-spread. This is the principle of the Philistine norm when people first of all think they are normal themselves and the things they treat normal are the norm. But this Philistine norm gives rise to disputes about the essence of the norm.
Translated by Maria Gousseva