Thoughts on “Normative People” and misconstrued ideals

Crowd Wisdom and perceived ideals

I once saw a program about love and finding mates. A research was mentioned there, in which people were shown photos of faces of men and women, and asked to rate who they found most attractive.
What the participants didn’t know, was that some of the pictures were manipulated – they were actually computer-generated averages of several real photos. Guess which pictures rated highest? That’s right, the computer-generated averages.

I think this is the research referred to in the program (a PDF file):
http://pages.ucsd.edu/~pwinkielman/winkielman-halberstadt-fazendeiro-catty_Prototypes-PS-2006.pdf

Ideal ≠ Real

I took this a little further, thinking this holds true not just for looks, but for other characteristics as well. For example, when we aspire to be good parents, the ideal we look up to, and aspire to, isn’t actually real. It is also an average of many “real” behaviors and ideas. A sort of Crowd Wisdom, in a way.
No wonder most of us aren’t ideal parents! That ideal doesn’t exist in real life! It is a surreal average. This realization is very comforting for me, when I find myself trying to compare and live up to behavioral ideals. No wonder I can’t be like that – I’m human, I have my flaws – I try to remind myself – this ideal is not realistic.

“Normative People” – on law and averages

Tomorrow we are going to trial. We are suing a former landlord for unjustly withholding a due refund. I will not go into the details, it is beside the point I wish to make.

Now, going to trial, I start to look at things in a different way than I’m usually used to. You start viewing things in white, black and gray, to stereotype. In court, you want to look like a normal person, truthful and honest, and you want the other side to seem untruthful. Our lawyer advised us: “You need to give the impression that you are ‘Normative People'”.

This got me thinking.
What is “Normative”?
I found myself thinking that I want to appear “gray”, conventional, average, in the court, to not stand out in any way. In front of a Judge who assesses me for the first time, and makes rapid judgements on my character and sincerity, I want to be that ideal average.

Why is that?
I usually like the outsiders. I like people who express their individuality, show their imperfections, who are true to themselves and make their own path, people who stand in the margins. I admire people who accept and embrace their imperfections, and even fear not showing them. I usually consider myself an outsider, not a mainstream person.

normative featured
Image by Pixabay

Sameness and Western culture imperialism

Moreover, I believe in diversity. While it is hard for me many times to accept behaviors and opinions that differ from my own, I do think we should learn to be more tolerant to these differences, and even nurture them.

When I zoom out and look at the broader picture, I see a world which is slowly moving towards the middle-grounds, towards one culture. I find that as globalization spreads, and with this incredible connectivity of the internet, borders are blurring, differences fading, as “western culture” infiltrates more and more.

The way I see it, now more than ever before, we embrace the same culture. Especially with the expansion of big corporations, international chain stores, and the growing online commerce, we all buy the same things, in similar stores, use the same devices, wear the same clothes, have the same meals no matter where we are, watch the same TV programs, drive cars that all look the same… (you get the drift, right?)

And in a way it’s nice that we have so much in common now. That I can write this post, sitting at my desk in the Kibbutz in Israel, and people from different corners of the globe can read this, and possibly relate to it.
And even when thinking of ancient times, belonging to a group, a community, was important as it increased one’s chances of survival. So it must be inherent in us to blur differences and push our way deep into the crowd, to be\seem “Normative”.

Me-time and individualism

At the same time, I am also very aware of the role of individuality in our current time. While blurring differences, and possibly because of it, individuality and self-expression are highly emphasized.

* I checked:

Individuality = The qualities that distinguish one person or thing from another; identity. The state or quality of being a separate entity.

Individualism = The pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests. The doctrine or belief that all actions are determined by, or at least take place for, the benefit of the individual, not of society as a whole.

I recognize this tension between belonging to the group, and maintaining your independent self, your individuality. Where is the balance between the two?

And why is it that in my daily life I feel an outsider from “the group” and nurture my individual self, and when going to trial I wish to assimilate, to become gray as gray can be?

Related

In the wonderful series Visionaries: Behind the creative mind by OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), Tom Ford, Fashion designer and Filmmaker, says:

“In today’s world, what everyone aspires to do, is to be exactly the same…
“I love when people are extravagant. I wish more people were extravagant. You know, when you look at period costume, you go back to other periods of time, people were much more brave with fashion…
“We’re very safe today, we don’t put much energy or effort into it at all. I would like to see more of that, really, more individuality…”

In the Fascinating and important documentary Missrepresentation by Jennifer Newsom, which I highly recommend, there is one scene that felt awkward to me. I wish I could refer you to the scene’s movie clip, but I couldn’t find one.

An African-American model comes to speak to girls. The model talks to them, her message being of empowerment, but! Her hair is straightened! How can she talk to these girls about being true to themselves, when she herself has obviously gone to some lengths to fit into the template, the mold, of how a woman ought to look?

* Featured image from: http://everyguyed.com/fashion-101/how-to-build-a-workplace-wardrobe/

* If I got something wrong, or if you have further knowledge on these subjects to share, please educate me!

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