What is normality?
Who is abnormal? Who is weird? Who is crazy?
I recently had a conversation with a friend, who expressed her disappointment that someone she knew said that she wanted to work with “the crazy ones” when she really meant that she wanted to work with psychiatric patients. I confessed to her, “You know…I’m sorry, but you’ll be disappointed to know that I use the same terms (kind of, maybe “weird” instead)…….By the way, what’s crazy? Who’s crazy?” A disclaimer: People who know me know very well that when I use such labels, it’s a challenge to the term “craziness/ weirdness”. “Oh, they’re crazy. Okay, how do you know you aren’t crazy or that I’m not crazy?”
I am a firm believer that craziness and it’s opposite, normality, are societal constructs. They are somewhat useful (e.g in deciding where limited resources should go to), but they need to be challenged too. Think about it. Why do we call psychiatric patients who are institutionalized crazy? Why are they crazy? That’s because they aren’t blending into what society expects them to do. And why am I normal? That’s because I’m surviving (even if it means having my nose just above the water bobbing up and down) and performing the tasks of what society expects me to do. Do we differ phenomenologically very much? I doubt so.
Recently, I’ve started volunteering at a mental health institute, and reflecting on the sessions in addition to my past volunteering experiences in a children’s home for the mentally challenged, I commented to my brother, “It’s so remarkable, how stripped of all our fronts and appearances, how similar all of us are.” These individuals are genuinely happy when we bring sugared drinks and snacks for them, and so are they, when they receive the company and interaction of fellow humans. Doesn’t that sound like you and me? Though perhaps these common human desires take more sophisticated forms for us.
Recently also, I’ve been been doing an online biblical counseling course, where the prof discussed an individual with paranoid schizophrenia. He reminds students not to reduce individuals to their diagnosis, and to hold on to the truth that we share a common humanity. In his grandiosity, the individual experiences a manifestation of the pride we all to some degree experience– the desire for ourselves to be in the centre of the world instead of God. In his fear of persecution, the individual experiences a manifestation of the fear of man we all go some degree experience– the fear of what others think about or will do to us instead of resting in God’s perfect satisfaction in us in Christ.
In church/ Christian circles, it is commonly said that the line dividing good and evil resides within of us. Similarly, if I may extend this phrase, the line dividing normality and abnormality resides within of us. We all share the same story line. We are made in the image of God, but sin and the brokenness of this world has marred this image. We share the same wiring of desires, dissatisfaction, and sinfulness in this world, but also reflecting some beautiful image despite all these. I remembered witnessing a lady in the institute sharing her only chocolate cake with a friend, of whom then went ahead to offer to share her cake with me, and I thought to myself, “wow, such generosity”. I might just have eaten the cake up myself in both their shoes. Who knows.
Long story short. Next time you call someone crazy/ weird/ abnormal/ mad, look carefully– you might find some within yourself 😉 If you encounter any of the “crazy”, be a little more accepting and less afraid. We are more similar than we’re comfortable to believe– good or bad.