Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 12, 2004

Normal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

The more I learn about the gay bashing six students who recently settled a lawsuit against the Morgan Hill Unified School District say they endured, the less I am able to fathom the closed-minded, frightened – and frightening – people who think anyone who veers from their constricted definition of normal in any way deserves contempt and mistreatment.

You know, I just don’t understand how the few people who justify persecution of homosexuals with Biblical references can ignore other Biblical edicts such as “Love they neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8) and “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31) among scores of others.

Inexplicably, a portion of our society thinks it’s just fine to physically, emotionally and verbally abuse those who are different, whether the difference is sexual orientation or reasons like being in special education, belonging to a minority religion or race, espousing a different political viewpoint or having a physical disability. Those who are slapped with the “different” label are easy and, sadly, frequent targets for teasing, bullying and worse.

People who aren’t part of the so-called ‘mainstream’ have so much of value to offer; those who shun them diminish their own lives when they’re unable to appreciate the perspectives and ideas they bring to the world. The stupidity of those who see no value in those with differences stuns me. The contributions of people who fall outside the narrowly defined parameters of ‘normal’ are too precious to be ignored. It sounds trite and clichéd, but it’s true: When we view our differences as assets that enhance our society, we’re all so much better off.

Valuing our diversity makes stereotype-ridden commercials like the one the right-wing political action committee Club for Growth is airing in Iowa seem especially inane. The television ad says in part:

” … Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New-York-Times-reading … body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

The ad frustrates and angers me because it offers nothing of value to the debate about which candidate Democrats (of which few or none belong to Club for Growth and its offshoot, moveright.org, I note) should nominate for president. On a gut level, the spot makes me want to buy a Volvo and take my family out for sushi and a movie. It does absolutely nothing to help me decide if I should support Howard Dean.

Perpetuating tired stereotypes apparently passes for political debate for many people, so I guess I really shouldn’t be too surprised that some in our society just can’t tolerate anyone who’s even a hair’s-width out of the mainstream.

I recently tripped across a poignant and witty Web site. It’s the creation of a man who’s been labeled with autism, and details his frustration with his treatment by the ‘normal’ world.

He’s created a fake institute – the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical – to research the made-up disorder he calls NT for short. He includes a tongue-in-cheek NT screening test – take it online to learn if you might be – how boring – normal.

But his description of himself, in the section on why he created the Web site, moved me profoundly:

“My brain is a jewel. I am in awe of the mind that I have. I and my experience of life is not inferior, and may be superior, to the NT experience of life.”

I was moved by sadness that he’s been made to feel defective, and by admiration of his triumph over that potentially incapacitating message.

Here’s what I believe about differences: It’s important to expand my world, to appreciate and value those who march to the beat of a different drummer than I do. It’s good for them, and it’s good for me.

And if that seems like a radical notion to you, beware, that’s a sign of NT, according to the faux institute:

“Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority and obsession with conformity.

“Neurotypical individuals often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one … NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others.”

If that’s normal – and the sad experiences of the six students who settled their lawsuit suggest that is, as does the bullying endured by students every day at schools across this country as well as the insipid ad painting Dean supporters as freaks – then I really want to be different.

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