Sunday, August 29, 2010
What is normal? What do you understand by normal? To most of us, ‘normal’ is ‘the way it is around here’. If you live in a smart part of the city, then ‘normal’ is going to smart restaurants, having a highly paid job (or your partner has one), having a good education and having plenty of money, which gives you choices.
If you live in a rough part of the city, ‘normal’ may mean being part of a gang, not having enough money, relaxing with drugs and alcohol, no job and an education that is optional.
If you and your friends and family eat a lot of fast food and do little exercise, you’re probably overweight. But most people around you are on the large side too, so that’s normal, isn’t it?
Those who belong to the local golf club and send their children to public schools will socialise with friends who have the same interests – that’s normal.
Normal can be a very dangerous concept. We all have our view of what is ‘normal’ but these views will differ widely. Does this matter? I would argue that Yes, it does matter.
Regardless of our own situations, we need to understand that other people live very different lives to our own. Obvious, perhaps, but the vast majority of us carry on our daily lives as if other people’s ‘normal’ doesn’t exist. If we do think about it, ‘It’s over there’ or ‘What can I do to change it’ are typical reactions which might trouble us for a few seconds before we move on to something more interesting.
In the 21st century, social mobility and the ability to move around the country are more difficult to achieve than ever before. Generous final salary pension schemes in some jobs mean that those employees lucky enough to have this benefit will not change jobs. They remain in place until they retire. Welfare benefits make it unviable for many unemployed people to take a job. They can’t move either.
Those in well paid employment do have more flexibility. In many cases they also have a selfish view of the world and ‘look after number one’. It isn’t until they fall off of the career merry go round that they realise how difficult life is for many people – they see a different ‘normal’.
Some cities are almost segregated with the members of different races living within their own communities and hardly mixing with others.
So what is the answer to this? One response would be to show people a new ‘normal’, one that they’ve never been exposed to before. This could be achieved by taking people out of their own environment and moving them to another area, where they would mix with other people with completely different views of what is normal. Taking people out of their local comfort zones where they might be ‘a big fish in a small pond’ and moving them elsewhere, where they become a much smaller fish in a much larger pond.
A way to achieve this would be to introduce compulsory ‘Social Service’ – a 21st version of National Service. Everyone leaving school would do a year’s Social Service at a location away from their home town. They would meet a wide range of people from varying backgrounds whilst working on projects which helped local communities, helped the old and frail and worked to help society as a whole. Putting more emphasis on ‘We’ and less on ‘Me’. Within this, the illiterate would be taught to read and write, everyone would gain new skills in relation to their interests and abilities and those at the top of the social tree would be introduced to some of the harsh realities of life.
At the end of this, many people would have a new view of ‘normal’ and it would transform the lives of most of the people.
Yes, it would be expensive but look at the current alternative – would you want to live in some of these other ‘normal’ lives?
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