NOTE: My statements are not necessarily my opinions. I often post point-counterpoint essays in which I strongly take one side of an issue and later counter that with antithetical views. This intellectual exercise helps me see the merit in opposing opinions and augments my creativity.

What is normal, anyway?

“Any behavior is neither solely negative or solely positive. There are potential benefits for both, depending on the context you're placed in.”
— Avram Holmes, Yale University clinical psychologist, quoted in When it comes to our brains, there's no such thing as normal

When asked, “What is the next issue to undergo a sea change in social acceptance?,” Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen responded, “Far more generalized acceptance of widespread variations in human behavior. All of us who were raised pre-Internet were taught that there is something called ‘normal,’ and I think that whole concept might go right out the window.”

Indeed. I once thought almost everyone was normal; only the conspicuous oddballs stood out—perhaps because of mental illness, substance abuse, or odd bats in their belfries.

I was wrong. Truly normal people now seem few and far between. Thank God for that.

Commenting on my article on why I never attempt to be consistent, a reader submitted the following incisive observation:

“It's kind of funny to see people judge others by what they think is normal and what's not. I don't think anybody really knows what normal exactly is.”

That's an excellent point. The people I've met who might qualify as normal rarely have bright ideas, strong opinions, passion, or quirks that distinguish them from other bland cookie-cutter folks.

I've gone on dates with normal women who were so painfully boring that even beauty couldn't mask their lack of pizzazz and individuality.

Many of the world's greatest thinkers and doers often stood out apart from their genius. Some of the greatest scientists were especially fond of sex. With research indicating that sex can improve brainpower, it is reasonable to wonder if more sex and especially better sex can do even more for the mind. It's also reasonable to think that their genius and affinity for sex were not a coincidence. Ben Franklin, a polymath head-and-shoulders above other Founding Fathers, surely would have relished my book, The Science of Sex. Albert Einstein and other Nobel Prize winners may have been too busy in the bedroom to read it.

Sex is part of medicine, and what my medical school taught about it would make your jaw drop and your eyes bug out, but even that was woefully inadequate to help most patients. Med school professors repeatedly stressed that what we learned was just a foundation we should later add to, so I did.

Let's face it: the normal things we do—wash dishes and laundry, mow the yard, take out the trash, clean the home, go to work, go home, repeat until you want to pull your frigging hair out—provide few opportunities to express uniqueness. Robots could—and soon will—do many of those things. Having more free time will enable individuality to blossom, which might lead to a surge of creativity in science and the arts. Or it might lead to lots of bored people wondering what to do with all that free time.

True creativity means doing something that's never been done before. It is entering uncharted territory while the normal folks stay on Main Street.

Creative people are by definition not normal. Their quirkiness is a byproduct of minds that think different than the normal minds of normal people who accomplish little.

An advertising slogan created for Apple Computer in 1997 brilliantly explained how “the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently” who are “crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Inside-the-box thinking provides safety to people who are afraid to be different. While they won't be accused of being not normal, they won't stand a chance of being called a genius.

The curse of conformity

Bill Gates called Steve Jobs “fundamentally odd” and “weirdly flawed” as a person. Jobs cruelly brushed aside people, including valuable co-workers and his own daughter. He was a legendary jerk, but he did things most people can only dream about.

Creativity is the great engine that drives our world forward. Now, arguably more than ever, we need great new ideas to rescue us from a future that seems increasingly bleak. However, our culture often ridicules good new ideas (and those who generate them) because the folks who huddle in the middle of the Bell curve of aptitude are blind to what those on its upper tail are doing: creating a better world and a better tomorrow. To do that, they must be courageous enough to battle with the inside-the-box minds for whom normalcy provides the comfort of fitting in with other undistinguished people.

Harmonizing with others is a laudable goal, but fitting in usually means being just another plain-vanilla cog in a mass-produced chain.

Who wants to fit in a world in which a patient can be murdered by a healthcare provider who doesn't like the color of his skin?

Who wants to fit in a world in which people can face lifelong discrimination and worse for preferences shaped before birth?

Who wants to fit in a world in which a woman who did nothing wrong can be treated like dirt before being kicked out of the country?

Who wants to fit in a world in which past wrongs are swept under the rug or covered with Band-Aids?

Who wants to fit in a world in which hospital CEOs can be paid millions for ignoring obvious problems and endangering patients?

Who wants to fit in a world in which political opponents can earn six-figure salaries for lying through their teeth?

Who wants to fit in a world in which a President who regarded black people with arrogant contempt can be revered as a saint?

Who wants to fit in a world in which a war criminal can be welcomed into the White House?

Who wants to fit in a world in which barbarians were not punished for raping and mutilating countless women and children?

Who wants to fit in a world in which war is the path to peace?

Who wants to fit in a world in which a Nobel Peace Prize recipient bragged that he is “really good at killing people”?

Who wants to fit in a world in which having rich parents encourages too many rich kids to squander their potential?

Who wants to fit in a world in which beauty is usually valued more than brains?

Who wants to fit in a world in which an incompetent doctor with the right appearance and right connections can keep his job?

Who wants to fit in a world in which a generation can transfer its debt to subsequent ones?

Who wants to fit in a world in which too many people don't realize that animals suffer as much as humans from emotional and physical pain?

Who wants to fit in a world in which voters elect Presidents with more hair?

Who wants to fit in a world in which most folks are too busy with their iPods to read books?

Who wants to fit in a world in which colleges award sham degrees?

Who wants to fit in a world in which affirmative action for rich white people enables them to rocket ahead of others?

Who wants to fit in a world in which people bow to those who perpetuate an injustice?

Who wants to fit in a world in which most consumers never figure out that the short-lived stuff they buy from China is no bargain?

Who wants to fit in a world in which the country that epitomizes freedom is hell-bent on controlling its citizens and others?

These and myriad other wrongs should compel everyone to seek the change we so clearly need. Normal, spineless folks tolerate these injustices while creative people think there is a better way. Having the capacity to imagine what might be gives creative people the capability to invent but also the desire to right wrongs.


  1. A Mad World: A diagnosis of mental illness is more common than ever – did psychiatrists create the problem, or just recognise it?
    Comment: Originally posted on Aeon.
  2. Commenting on Why Are Genius and Madness Connected?, one person said, “A huge amount of thinking is not always the great thing that society makes it out to be. The more you know, the more there is to be disturbed about. And as far as who is a genius goes, it is severely obvious that stupid "normal" people who fit in are nothing more than brain-dead conformists too lazy in the head to think for their self.”
  3. Dr. Daniel Barron: Who Are You Calling Normal?
    Comment: A superb perspective illustrating how the most adaptive behavior depends on our environment and circumstances.
  4. Book by Dr. Dale Archer: Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional
  5. Book: The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America
  6. Book: A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness
The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

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