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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Are We Abnormal?

Recently I asked you all what was the most difficult part of your path toward sustainability (there were great responses on Facebook as well as on the blog). There were a surprising number of answers that focused around people giving us a hard time for living the lifestyles we live.

All right, y’all:  I’m back online, here’s my rallying call!

Right here, right now, I want to encourage you all to turn the conversation around. Show everyone around you how normal your lifestyle is relative to theirs! You are the normal one.  You are living more like humans have lived for thousands of years, and how most humans in the rest of the world still live. Most people don’t use the heap of beauty products and packaged goods that we Americans consume. We are abnormal as a society.

I mean really, is it normal to…

Be ok with who you are, put only a few pure ingredients in and on your body, nurture your health and strive for a gratifying life of longevity?

OR is it normal to…

Be embarrassed about who we are and cover it up with harsh chemicals and fragrances that we buy at a store for generally a lot of money, which are not good for us and often send us to the doctor for medical care (or force us to buy more products to cover up the issues the original products caused), both of which force us to work long hours and make lots of money to pay for it, which makes us not have time to focus on what we put in our bodies, which perpetuates a vicious unhealthy and unhappy cycle?

The other day a coworker told me she’d never thought she needed eye cream to stave off wrinkles, until she saw an ad in the store that convinced her.

There are lots of ads out there, convincing us that we need things:

We need to cover our wrinkles (which are often created by the makeup we use to cover them), we want that take-out hamburger because we’re hungry now and it’s convenient (but it was the sign on the side of the road that made us want the hamburger – what if you’d seen a sign that pictured a luscious homemade meal?), we need a big diamond ring to show others that we are in love (rather than the smile on my face and a little heirloom ring that show it so much more)…

Here’s another:  is it normal to…

Drive to work, sit all day working hard (so you can pay for your car and other things to give you comfort after a stressful day at work), drive home, watch television, take your pills to treat coronary issues or diabetes, and sleep?

OR is it normal to….

Get enough exercise and be healthy and fit and live long because you walk and garden?

What should be normal here? Most people in the world don’t live the way we do in America.

So I encourage you all, the next time someone gives you crap, to very politely acknowledge to yourself that you are the normal one. You are the one who has not bought into the last 50 years of advertising in America, which tells us we need to buy things to make us happy. You are the one who is living more like most people in the world, and most people over many generations.

Whether or not you say this to your friends is your choice. Just as you don’t take kindly to being told you aren’t normal, your friends won’t either. But you know your friends best – try to open their eyes in a way that doesn’t push them away. It might be a very slow process. However, keep in mind during that whole process that you are the normal one.

Am I Right??!

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41 comments to Are We Abnormal?

  • Nice topic! Since I’m a native Californian living in France, I have plenty of time to think over this topic. Here are a few things the French find perfectly normal that people in the US might turn their nose up at:
    –wearing the same outfit more than one day in a row
    –driving tiny cars
    –not buying on credit (no credit cards here for the most part)
    –having smaller homes, smaller closets and less stuff
    –walking instead of driving and taking public transport

    I also find that I blog about these issues often, but I’m a little more shy about speaking out to friends and family back in the States. It’s definitely something to consider: speaking out with friends, family and acquaintances, not just on your blog.

    • SIF, Lovely perspective you have! I love all of those things – thank you for sharing. I agree completely that it’s important to share with friends, family, and others around you. I think it has to be in an organic, non-confrontational way. Certainly tough, but when it works it’s wonderful.

  • Attila

    Yes, you are right. I’ve not had too much of a problem with other people but sometimes if I feel poor (and by the standards where we live we are poor) I think of all those who go to bed hungry, who struggle to feed, clothe and shelter their families and I know my simple life is very rich indeed.

  • Awesome post! I think the key to this whole thing, though, is compassion. We need to treat other people’s comments and questions as amazing opportunities to compassionately explain how important it is for us to live our lives sustainably.

    Persuasion isn’t necessary–the best way to show people how “normal” our practices are is to joyfully live out our beliefs, and kindly answer questions and address comments as they arise.

    Thanks for this.

    • Sara, I have come to the conclusion in my life that compassion is one of the most powerful emotions in the world. And bringing compassion to more people is, I believe, key to improving our planet and our lives. Thanks for your comment – it’s lovely to hear I’m not alone in that belief!

  • Rah Rah! I agree!

    I’ve been lucking out here — I’m in the Boston area, and whenever I mention that I want to be a farmer, most people are like “I love gardening!” or “That makes sense!”

    … but then again, this is the neighborhood where the local hardware store sells push mowers.

  • ALM

    Awesome post, great idea. On a side note, I think some people accidentally draw negative attention to themselves because they sort of show-boat about being “green”. I’m pretty sure I used to do that sometimes, not intentionally, and now I know I’m more thoughtful when I talk about that kind of stuff. I may have come across to people like I was bragging or trying to get attention or something. Oops!

    • TheMom

      I have to say that I may guilty too. But also, we are paving the way for the people who won’t do it because its “too hard”, or “it costs too much.” So don’t stop yourself from looking into the mirror and telling yourself good job!! Its hard work, and you earned the right to think highly of yourself! You just have to find the *happy medium* of being proud of yourself and looking down your nose at the rest of the population who has yet to see things the same. :)

    • ALM, very interesting – I sometimes wonder that myself, as everyone around me knows about my blog (and a good portion of them read it regularly). I wonder if they think I’m judging them…. So I probably try too hard NOT to talk about it. Hmmm, not so good to go over board there either!

      TheMom, great insight – it is a balance, isn’t it?

  • Hear, Hear!

    Excellent post….now if I could just get my teenage daughter to read it …and believe it :)

  • Totally! (and I have a chemically sensitive husband who is a daily reminder of just how bad for your body some of these “beauty” products can be!)

  • so true! I love this post- and have linked it to share with so many other ‘normal’ people :)

  • Very interesting post. I would say that we are normal as to who we are as people. Labels that are made and people that decide to live by them are doing only what they are taught, everyone hates change. I find myself while talking about my self sufficient lifestyle, say in a small voice in my head, it is normal to know where your food comes from or something along those lines.
    You make a very good point in getting our minds back to the basics. When I lived in the city, labels are all I knew. Once I bought this homestead and began my journey of a self sufficient lifestyle, the food I gathered/hunted had no labels. Considering your point, I really think you hit the nail on the head with all these labels.

    • Jason, interesting point. Labels are the mechanism for generating the picture of “normal” in our heads, I think. If we can label, we can categorize and partition, and then we can divide the normal from the abnormal… Interesting.

  • ADRIENNE JONQUIL

    this is so awesome, thank you so much for writing this post! I know that sustainability is the only lifestyle I ever could choose, it only makes the most sense – but a little encouragement is so nice when many of those who are close think I have lost my senses at times. becoming conscious of these ‘needs’ in this capitalism mecca we live in is a must, living as examples to help out the Earth is the best thing we can do. keep it goin

    • Adrienne, I’m so glad this hit home for you and several others. I know we all need some reassurance every once in a while – I need it to! Thank you for stopping to comment – I appreciate it very much.

  • Topi

    Great post,
    What is normal? It means about the same as average. I think your (or ours) way of life is not normal but it may be better and healthier for the society than the average. I believe it is healthier for the globe in long run. I the could never understand the economists belief that the economy has to keep growing continuously. A person or animal grows up to a point animal and then starts declining in abilities. History shows that the societies do the same. If we keep our consumption in check we should do OK.
    Have you checked the Ubuntu website for the alternative OS yet?
    Greetings Topi
    ?

  • I do treat my diabetes daily, so it has become a form of normal to me, LOL. I know you didn’t mean any negative kind of inference, other than avoiding sickness if you can. Which I thoroughly agree with. Do everything you can to avoid sickness.

    However, normal for everyone is different. When you develop a chronic illness, if you don’t treat your condition like it is normal (for you) then you end up fighting it for a long time.

    I spent at least a decade, mourning the fact I wasn’t normal, like everyone else. Those were the times I really willfully hurt myself, by ignoring my treatment.

    When I married and managed to have a child however, I realised there are many paths to normal for many different people. It became normal for me to have multiple injections and eat a balanced diet. In fact it was my diabetes specialist, who said the diabetes regime should be the kind of normal everyone should be following, LOL.

    So lets not frown upon illness as if there is something abnormal about sickness. Stress is a form of sickness that affects everyone, at some point in their life. You can be super green, or super toxic and at some point you’ll suffer stress.

    That’s because life in general is stressful. We carry a lot of personal responsibility, and there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.

    On the whole, I attempt to steer clear of the term “normal”, and prefer to opt for references such as destructive or proactive ways of living. If someone has a destructive kind of personality, no-one in the world can do anything to satisfy them.

    Where as a proactive personality, on the other hand, will explore wider views of the world and respect them as part of the whole.

    I think people generally tend to have a mixture between both personalities – it just depends what happens to tip them over the edge, from one day to the next, LOL.

    My sister gets a lot of cosmetic surgery and spends a lot of money looking young. For me, that is not normal. For her, it has become normal. I couldn’t imagine spending the kind of money she does on herself, but them I’m not doing that. We both seem to give each other the right amount of space however, to be who we are. She’s not thrilled about “natural” looking people – unless they naturally look stunning. But she doesn’t bag me about my “natural” looks.

    I’m not thrilled about her “altered beauty” either. I wonder what’s left of my sister that’s natural. But I certainly don’t actively try to bag her for it either.

    I think our own worst enemy sometimes, is ourselves. We aren’t happy if the world isn’t shaped to our version of normal.

    I don’t think tactical wars on ideologies has ever solved anything. It’s only when we’re truly comfortable with ourselves, that we stop looking for validation. It’s certainly nice to get validation – but it shouldn’t be our reason for doing what we believe is right.

    There’s life on the other side of normal, no matter which side you happen to be standing on. :)

  • Sorry for commenting a second time – I hope it’s okay? :)

    I quickly wanted to add that it’s not a question of whether people are abnormal – but rather if they’re remarkable instead.

    A remarkable person will defy the odds of the day, come what may. So rather than aiming to be normal, people should aim to be remarkable instead. :)

    • Chris, of course you can comment a second time! Thank you for the long and thoughtful comment. I like the idea of remarkable as being something to strive for. I have asthma – my normal is taking daily medication as well, and listening to my body more than most people do. I like very much that you are in a sense equating remarkable with proactive. I think it is essential to have such people in our world, particularly now.

      Take care!

  • Hi! We loved your post over at KiwiLog and decided to feature it as part of our weekly mom blog round-up. Thanks!

  • Very good point, Melinda! It’s too bad that so much of the world is looking to the way Americans live and wanting to do the same. Little do they realize that the happiness that may come from this capitalism is short-lived. There’s something to be said for having enough to be able to shelter, clothe and feed yourself and your family – but the majority of America is way, way past that point – including me. And it really makes me happy to have come to that realization, and to work to change that in myself.

  • I love this post. Makes me feel normal again =)
    Even in Malaysia where I come from, the green movement is still catching on. We can all do better

  • becky

    remarkable coincidence, your post, having just started re-reading My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization wherein the author, Chellis Glendinning, makes an interesting, related point..first, for the sake of easy visualization she bypasses some debate about when we humans really appeared on the scene by choosing a middle ground number of 1 million years ago. then she uses that number to go on..”Visualize a distance of 100 feet: the length of a basketball court plus six feet more. Imagine that this distance represents the last 1 million years of existence of the creatures who have become Homo Sapiens. Fasten your seatbelts: the last one-fifth of an inch of this hundred feet represent the length of time that we have lived in mass technological civilization, with the assumptions about life and reality that you and I are taught to assume as ‘normal’. Not very long and conceivably not very normal.” Continuing, she points out that even the organized planting and animal husbandry we call domestication only showed up just one foot from the present time. So in this historical context, the “developed” countries are all participating in a huge experiment in fast forward, completely unsustainable and incredibly far from “normal” living and those among us who question that and seek alternatives to it are on that basketball court much closer to lining up with “normal” than “abnormal.”

  • Nice post. I like Chris’s use of the term “remarkable.”

    In fact, historically many of the habits you object to are “normal.” Humanity has been behaving stupidly, even bizarrely, for millennia. It’s a bizarre animal, when you come down to it.

    Makeup, for example: we’ve been painting our faces and bodies since pre-agricultural days. The Picts painted themselves blue all over. Ancient Egyptians used lead-laced eyeliner, and the makeup European women used from Early Modern times forward has been full of toxic ingredients. As a practical matter, the gunk we smear on our faces today, despite the evil-sounding stuff it contains, is less dangerous to our health than the paint our ancestors used.

    Before we had the amenities that make our lives comfortable, safer, and healthier, people worked until they dropped, and they dropped at an early age. Until concepts of hygiene developed and antibiotics were invented, a person who made it to adulthood would outlive half of his or her children. In 1900, a white American man could expect to live 46.6 years; his female counterpart, 48.7 years. A black American man born in 1900 had a life expectancy of 32.5 years; a black woman, 33.5 years.

    By 1950, a white American male could expect to live to age 66.5; a black American male, to age 60.8. A white American woman would live 72.2 years, and her black sisters would live to age 62.9. By 2004, white men had a life expectancy of 75.7 years; white women, 80.8; black men, 69.5; and black women, 76.3. Despite the continuing racial disparity, African American lifespans have effectively doubled since the good old days; white Americans have seen their life expectancy extended by thirty years.

    That doesn’t sound like things are getting worse, or like our lifestyles are significantly more harmful to our health than they were when most of us walked or rode horses to get where we were going, grew most of our food in kitchen gardens, and had fresh vegetables and fruit only when they were locally in season.

    I also wish that healthier food were available everywhere, that tomatoes still tasted like tomatoes and chicken still tasted like chicken, that the air were cleaner (believe me, it’s a lot better than it was when I was a kid!), that we were not blitzed with advertising urging us to live wastefully, that we did not base our economy on full-out consumption, that the sky was silent and not roaring with helicopter and jet plane noise, that people did not walk around yakking on phones and pumping violent music into their ears, that we could power our civilizations without harming the Earth. But I think matters are a great deal more complex than we think. We should be careful what we wish for.

  • This was a great post! I often have people tell me how strange we are. This happens so much that I never even thought that maybe we ARE the normals ones :D.

  • Hurray! Thank you so much. I live in a town where I feel very alone in my thinking. It is good to know that there are others more like me.

  • [...] Are we abnormal? at One Green Generation. Abnormal or normal, it's all a matter of perspective. [...]

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