Sunday, 4 March 2012

Are you normal?

In recent weeks I have observed people participate in their local community in ways they normally wouldn’t.  People have rallied together to help individuals, organisations, businesses and the entire community get back on their feet.  Many people have done so unassumingly and quietly, others have gone about it with a loud and determined manner, others have done things none of us will ever know about.  Each individual should feel proud of their efforts, however big or small, and nobody should assess or judge how, what and why people have done, or not done, things.  How people have responded after the disaster got me thinking about our ability, as a society, to value each individual.

As soon as a child is born we want to be reassured that everything is ok, that they are ‘normal’, the same as every other baby.  However, the other night I saw an interview with Paralympian Kurt Fearnley who was born without the lower portions of his body and he was amazing, the joy that shone from his face was uplifting and he spoke about his life with such affection and fun.  He was raised in the tiny country town of Carcoar in Central West NSW, he was the youngest of five, and he said his family and whole community believed he could do anything, and he has done just that.  He has crawled along the Great Wall of China, completed the Kokoda Trail, is a two time Paralympic Champion and has had lunch with the Queen.  He has done more than most of us will ever do and he only has half a body. 

From the minute a child is born there are milestones they should meet, from when they should sit up, crawl, walk and talk and this only gets exaggerated when they go to school.  The need for children to conform is so great that it is often difficult to appreciate, enjoy and celebrate their uniqueness.  As we grow up we quickly learn that if we want to fit in we should dress like everybody else, sound like everybody else and pretty much just agree with everybody else.  So is conformity the ticket to success or the secret to mediocrity?  As a society we give accolades, congratulations, promotions, praise and awards to those who succeed in and contribute to society in a way that makes us feel safe, that looks normal and that we agree with.  There would be an equal number of people that contribute and succeed by challenging the status quo, constantly pushing the boundaries, pushing us forward as a society but we probably find them more annoying than helpful, even though what they are doing is vital. 

John F. Kennedy said “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth” and Thomas John Watson, who was the chairman and CEO of IBM and was one of the richest men in the world when he died said “Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of crackpot than the stigma of conformity”.

Now I am not suggesting that we are all independent thinkers, and I am not advocating we have no rules and we all just run around wild and free, there needs to be structure or society will collapse and there needs to be lots of people who think, do and feel similar things otherwise life would just be too complicated.  I am simply suggesting that as individuals and a society we might need to try harder to value each individual, not on their achievements, looks, personality traits, good deeds or financial success, but just for being, because every single one of us is truly special and gifted and sometimes beauty, talent, kindness, brilliance, generosity and fun is overlooked or not seen simply because the individual or group does not conform to what we deem ‘normal’.  Life is too short to limit ourselves to normal.

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