Saturday, April 01, 2006

Normal, or Noble?

Karen E writes about "normality":

As Lissa so aptly noted in her post, "weird" (or "not-normal") usually just means "different" ... and it's the weird people who have often gone on to do great things in the world. And a lot of weird people, while they may never do outwardly great things, will find other wonderful weird people, marry them, and lead fulfilling lives, raising weird kids and having a great time through it all.
This issue of "normality" brings to mind David Hicks' book Norms and Nobility:
(the Headmistress has some notes on the book here and here are DominionFamily's jottings )

"The Greek doctrine of the Golden Mean prescribed man as he ought to be -- physically poised, mentally balanced and rounded off, thoughtful in action and active in thought: the living embodiment of the Ideal Type. The modern mean, on the other hand, defines the individual as he is in relation to a statistical point. The Golden Mean was a dynamic principles; the modern mean is a static one. Ancient man strove to fulfill in his person the Golden Mean and was rewarded with rare moments of fleeting achievement; modern man, however, is always at -- or so many points off-- the modern man....."

"How much easier and safe it (seems) to adopt the philosophy of the modern mean. Judging the student against what he is or against what his peers are, after dividing them by their numbers, seems far less arbitrary and demanding. What could be more democratic and less controversial? How could a student fail to measure up to what he is? Unfortunately, however, the statistical mean is a solution with mathemetical -- but not human -- efficacy. The past instructs us that man has only understood himself and mastered himself in pursuit of a self-transcendent Ideal, a Golden Fleece, a Promised Land, a Holy Grail, a numinous windmill. He defines himself in the quest, not on Kalypso's unblown isle, where he is only judged against himself, where all obstacles are removed, where the question of human significance seems insignificant..... on Kalypso's idyllic estate, Odyssean man is a nobody,.... seated "on the vacant beach with a shattered heart, scanning the sea's bare horizon with wet eyes". Only Odysseus' knowledge of the past -- his longing for Ithaka, Penelope, and Telemakhos -- keeps him alive; and only the responsibility he takes for that knowledge rescues him from Kalypso's pointless life of pleasure."
Striving to be "normal" does not seem to fit what we were intended for, or to answer the calls of our Master: "Be ye perfect..." and "Be in the world, but not of it..." Our built in longing is to be more than what we are, not something other than what we are, or not exactly what we are already. The humility and difficulty of a quest suits us more than the discomfort and hypocrisy of trying to fit into a set of clothes not made for us. ... or the comfort and complacency of fitting too well. It's a losing game both for the ones that fit AND the ones that don't.

The Golden Mean puts us all in search of bettering ourselves, and in the process helping us better fit society as it ought to be, not as it presently is. Hicks makes it clear when he talks about Odysseus's longing for his family as a spur to push himself to get past where he is now. It is our relationships, our love and connection with others and with things bigger than ourselves, that is our foundation and our motivation to grow past ourselves to nobility, not just a sterile desire to look good or gain power or approval. Striving to meet a standard of normality ultimately only pits us against others and throws us back upon ourselves.


Amy said...

You always have something so deep for me to chew on! Thanks for today's installment. :) I never have the brain cells to formulate a good response, but I definitely appreciate the chance to really think.

Karen E. said...

What a beautiful post, Willa. Thank you. You always take the time to really *look* at an issue, and I often end up feeling I've done nothing but give it a quick glance before running on to the next thing. I so appreciate your perspective, thoughts and posts.