Monday, 23 April 2007
Am I normal?
A couple of posts I've read on other blogs recently have got me thinking about the degree to which we, society, accept other's differences. Urban Cowgirl set me off with her post The Eye Bone's Connected to the Brain Bone, in which she talks about the extent to which people who live in cities fail notice extremes of behaviour compared with people from out of town. This reminded me about my experiences of having worked in a semi-rural community and then being promoted to an inner city area of Manchester. I often came across people suffering from mental illness and dealt with the mental health services in getting treatment in an emergency; the identical situation in the inner city produced very different results, in that you had to be a lot madder to justify inpatient admission. In the city it is not unusual to see people displaying florid psychotic symptoms and have people just look the other way or simply accept it as just the way they are.
And here is where the other post I read recently coincides to produce my view on normality - not even that, because, as you will see, I don't draw any real conclusions. Pewari, in her post Don't Dith the Lithp, talks about the challenges of being a parent when faced with a minor speech defect - in this case a lisp. I had a lisp - I still have on occasions - and went through school nicknamed Lispo. I was not aware of any available speech therapy nor was it ever considered to be something needing therapy - and here comes my germ of a thought - things that are normal don't need therapy and that is what my lisp was: normal, how I was, it was part of me. What my parents lacked in the provision of speech therapy - if lack is what is was - they made up for in giving me a ringing self confidence that helped me accept myself and bugger the rest.
So where do these two threads lead in the context of our society and our communities? As a parent it has always been a challenge to know how to pitch abnormality; for example a trip to the orthodontist means there are wonky teeth. Do we tell our children that people should accept them as they are and that they should do likewise to others - so long as they have straight teeth? If you are poor and live in a deprived inner city area are your parents less likely to make a big deal out of crooked teeth and such? The evidence, in my experience, suggests that that is the case.
How then do we teach our children about normality and their attitude towards it; how do we guide their attitudes when we see the village idiot performing outlandishly and embarrassingly? Yesterday I watched security guards escort a man sat at a Starbucks table in the classy part of Manchester's shopping centre; his crime? Occupying a table and not fitting in, I'm guessing that he was mentally ill: dressed scruffily, not clean, muttering to himself but doing no harm: there were loads of spare tables; but he didn't look nice.
If I've arrived at any view at all from this mental exertion, it's that we should strive for a light touch in our dealings with difference: after all, 30 years ago homosexuality was a shameful type of difference; now two men holding hands across a table in Starbucks is simply how people are, being mentally ill is clearly not.