What is “Normal?”

Normal is a setting on the dryer.

We’re obsessed with labels. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist—it seems that we’re intent on placing ourselves in neat little boxes and pretending that everyone in a particular box is identical.

The big problem with labels is that they obscure ideas and individuals. Then we demonize, bash, and attack the label, and forget that behind the generalized, standardized label stands a real person.

I encounter labels a lot as a wheelchair user. Handicapped, disabled, physically challenged—what should people call me? Personally, I prefer “Rich.”

I’m not a wheelchair. My friend with MS isn’t a disease. My student with a sight impairment isn’t a white cane. We’re all people with strengths and weaknesses, just like every other person.

My current favorite is “special needs.” Does that imply that most folks aren’t special, or that they don’t have needs, or that their needs aren’t special? Why must we segregate individuals by labeling them as “special,” pretending that the rest of us are normal?

What’s “normal?” When my car operates normally, that means it’s performing as the designer intended. In that context, who’s normal? Which of us is operating as God intended when He designed us?

Apparently, the only normal person who ever lived was Jesus; the rest of us are flawed, broken, not operating according to design specifications.

My physical impairment is visible, and I deal with it daily. But what about my spiritual impairments—do I confront them as readily? Am I guilty of labeling others with “spiritual special needs” as though I’m somehow in a better category of sinner? Do I pretend that my flaws are “normal?”

God doesn’t see me as a category. Each of us is a unique, precious individual in His eyes. Each of us falls short of the glory for which He designed us. And each of us is so special that He sent His son to bring us back to full operating capacity.

What labels cause you to lose sight of individuals?