Thursday, April 9, 2015

5 Ways Normal People React To Abnormality

Title Photo Credit: Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute   
 (I’ve been picking on this stock-photo normal family a lot, huh?)

Guess what:  I’m not normal.  I would argue that there should really be no such thing as “normal,” since it’s a completely relative term.  Nevertheless, I think we all know that there is indeed such a thing as “normal,” and most people have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a “normal” person, based on the society that they live in. 

Well, in my environment, which I’ll just call “generic US society,” I’m not normal.  I’ve known that I wasn’t normal since at least age 6.  That’s when I remember sitting in the drainage ditch that I used to play in and trying to imagine what I’d be like if I was a “normal kid.”  (At the time, I figured that’d mean I’d have a stupid haircut, wear striped shirts, play soccer, have birthday parties with a bunch of other kids, and have both my parents living with me.) 

I don’t think I’ve ever been normal, but I have lived among the normals for many years now.  I’ve eaten their food, drank their drinks, watched their games, observed their customs, and so forth.  You might think I’m here to present my fellow weirdoes with a guide on how to infiltrate normal society, but the truth is that I’m far from a master infiltrator even now.  What can I say?  It’s hard; it takes a lot of mental effort for me to blend in.  I just have a way of weirding people out, and often, when I try to be normal, I think I only come off looking even creepier.  Sometimes I do manage to appear as a totally normal, approachable dude.  I can’t keep it up, unfortunately; my “normal guy” veneer will inevitably crumble, given enough time. 

This means that plenty of normal people have discovered my abnormality over the years.  They react to it in a variety of ways.  From my adventures with them, I’ve classified five different types of normal people based on how they react to someone who isn’t like them.  In truth, normals can display a whole spectrum of reactions, so most people will react in a way that might fit more than one of the following categories.  However, I feel that I can still distill five sufficiently disparate types of normal people from this reaction spectrum.  Here they are:

The Okay One

These guys aren’t that bad.  They see you’re not like them, but they’re okay with it.  Upon discovering your abnormality, they’ll probably still make one of those confused faces.  (If you’re of the “not like others” persuasion, you’ve certainly seen this face plenty of times and know it well.)  The thing is, after that initial surprise, they’ll recover and it’ll all be cool.  You’re doing you, and they’re doing them; it’s no problem.  Hell, you might even make friends with the okay ones.

There’s not really much else to say about them.  They’re not bothered by the fact that you’re different.  It’s too bad that there are so few of these people in the world…

The Dismisser

These people don’t necessarily find your weirdness offensive, but they do think they’re better than you because of it.  They may not display a particularly large reaction once they see that you’re not like them, but make no mistake: your status has just been lowered in their minds.  In a previous post, I mentioned that some people will literally think less of someone for not liking cheese; these people would count as dismissers.  Sadly, there seem to be plenty of these people in the world.

It’s a pretty annoying attitude.  You could be a goddamn expert in a given field, but a dismisser who knows far less than you will ignore everything you say.  You’re not like them, after all.  If you were smarter, you’d be normal. 

Just last year, this one guy I know started talking about something but then stopped quickly to ask me if I knew anything about what he was talking about. The topic in question was something that I had recently written about in one of my Listverse articles.  So I quickly talked about what I knew… and then he went and told me a bunch of the same stuff that I’d just told him as though I was new to the topic.  Later that same night, we were meeting other friends at a bar that we’d been to several times before.  (We were in my friend’s car.)  I remembered how to get there.  I told him where to turn; he ignored me and missed the turn.  I told him where he could turn again; he missed that, too.  Even as I gave precise directions to the bar, he pulled his smartphone and used it to Google directions to the place.  After having missed all those turns I called out, we ended up taking quite a meandering route to the place.  We’d have gotten there so much earlier if he’d listened to me.  This dude doesn’t usually have any trouble hearing or responding to me but does when I’m displaying knowledge for some reason.  As you might have guessed, this guy is more of a “normal” person.  I’ve been friends with him for years, but, damn… he is so totally a dismisser.

The Angry One

How can I eloquently describe the angry ones?  They’re assholes.  If you start openly breaking with even miniscule social norms, you’ll know if there’s an angry one in the room before long.  These people are offended by your difference.  They simply can’t let it be; once you stray from whatever their (generally narrow) definition of “normal” is, they have to stop what they’re doing and get in your face about it.  I don’t claim to know what issues these people have that motivate such anger.

A common remark from one of these people might be something like, “What the hell’s wrong with you???”  The explosiveness of their reactions may vary from acting like they’re ready to fight you to simply giving you a cold, offended stare.  Either way, the clear differentiation point between angry ones and dismissers is that immediate display of deep personal offense that your divergence seems to cause for them.  Dismissers may not necessarily get angry at you; if anything, you might be a source of amusement for them.  Angry ones, however, certainly do, though they certainly can begin to display dissmisser behavior after the initial outburst.

I’ve met tons of angry ones over the years.  I want to say I met more of them when I was younger  as opposed to more recent times (a.k.a. the ripe old age of 29).  Maybe acting as a dismisser is considered the more “mature” way to react to weird people nowadays; I don’t know.  The greatest concentration of angry ones in my life was undoubtedly middle school and some of high school.  I guess that fits with the stereotypical image of angry, hormonal teenagers.  Back then, I swear the most common angry reaction to abnormality was to call it “gay,” “queer,” or some similar epithet.  Apparently rural Pennsylvanians were really homophobic in the late 1990s, which makes sense, considering that half of the people seemed to be stuck in the 1950s (and probably still are).

On a final note, there are plenty of full-grown, adult angry ones.  They’re exceptionally easy to identify when they’re drunk.

The One That Tries To Change You

A dismisser or angry one, after the initial discovery that you’re not normal, might become one of these people, which I’ll call “changers” from here.  As the name overtly implies, these people essentially want to make you normal.  I imagine that their reasons vary, though I generally assume that it’s because they find it much easier if you act just like them. 

In this case, initiative is what distinguishes changers from dismissers or angry ones.  A dismisser might just quietly laugh at you, or an angry one quietly hate you, without ever actually trying to change the current state of affairs.  Changers take action.  Also, I’m not saying that a changer has to start out as a dismisser or angry one; there are definitely people that immediately jump to trying to “fix” you without showing any other overt reaction, too.

Changers’ methods vary greatly, from passive-aggressive manipulation to bluntly telling you to change to physically threatening you.  I find the ones that somehow try to punish your difference to be the biggest of assholes, personally.  (I’ve met a few in my day.) 

I don’t really have much of anything else to say about the changers.  I know I’ve met plenty of them, but I can’t really single out one person that I want to write about here.  There is one more thing to cover, however: a specific subtype of changer.

The Philanthropist

These guys are somewhat rare.  Basically, they’re changers who are trying to change you, and they genuinely believe that they’re helping you by doing so.  Whereas a lot of changers are probably taking action simply to make their own environments more palatable, philanthropists, in their eyes, are providing a service.  They figure that if they teach you to be normal, you’ll be better off. 

It’s possible that philanthropists might have somewhat more inflated egos than the average changer, but I can’t say for sure.  Going back to my dismisser/angry one distinction, I would say that a dismisser is probably somewhat more likely to turn into a philanthropist than an angry one, since people don’t usually want to help someone that makes them angry.

I’ve met a small number of philanthropists, and I never quite know what to make of them.  They clearly mean well, but I find the concept of someone trying to teach me to be normal to be completely ridiculous.  I remember one person in high school trying to teach me how to walk!  Apparently I wasn’t walking right.  (In other words, I was probably walking too fast and efficiently to bear.)  As I recall, this guy also gave some advice on how to sit and stand; I don’t know what his hang-ups on body language were.  I remember another dude in middle school trying to help me with advice on what kind of pants and belts to wear.  I find conversations with philanthropists just as weird as they probably find conversations with me.

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