What is normal? It is something that is usual, typical, standard, average, unexceptional, routine, predictable, to be expected.

Normal is the way things are done, part of the fabric of society, everyday habits, the unnoticed, taken for granted, culturally embedded.

It defines the benchmark against which everything else is measured. The middle of a normal distribution curve. Average, in the middle, the most common. The mean, median or modal value. The majority view, the most popular, a brand’s cash cow. The ‘cookie cutter’ option – all the same.

It’s an established reputation, reliable, consistent, well managed, authentic, honest, desirable. Dull, uninspiring, mundane, dependable, run of the mill, one of the pack.

Winning or losing – both can be normal. Our modus operandi. Reflexive. Natural. Inherent talent. The result of hard work, hours of practice. What we make of ourselves.

A facade. What others see. Without seeing. Ethical. Unethical. Just normal behaviour – nothing to see here.

The stereotype. Aren’t they all like that?

In PR. In Hollywood. In politics. In fashion. In the art world. In business. In the media. In the past. In reality. In our imagination. In our nightmares. It’s normal. Why are we surprised?

Male. White. Privileged. Powerful. Entitled to harass others. One of the boys.

Female. Black. Underprivileged. Powerless. Subject of harassment. Just a girl. Not one of us.

A role model. An influencer. A victim. A hero. Someone like me. Who I’d like to be. Who I once was.

#MeToo #Notinmyname #Blacklivesmatter

#MAGA #Brexiteer #Remoaner

Stand for the flag. Kneel for equality, freedom. Patriot. Citizen of the world.

Is normal what we accept? What we put up with? Who we are? What we will not allow to define us? Is normal not being abnormal?

We’ll ostracise, exorcise, eliminate, deny that bad practice or bad behaviour is the norm. Will good practice, good behaviour then be normal?

Just like that. Happy ever after. One for all. All for one.

Is our normal a comfort zone or a place of uncertainty? Who creates normality?

Are we all the same? Normal in our difference? Inclusive. Diverse.

Blending in. Standing out.

Is the Other not normal? Not like us? Even when otherness is the norm, the majority?

Why does it seem that the normal is not to be female, a stay at home parent, transgender, poor, living with disabilities, recovered from a mental health condition? Why are these normal experiences made to seem an exception? Even when they are common? Even when rejecting someone’s normality is unacceptable?

Blaming the individual. Blaming society. Blaming those with power, with agency, with control. All to blame. No-one’s fault. If only she, they, he, we…

Time for change. What’s normal for some is no longer normal in society. Never was. Never should be. Change the rules. Abide by rules. Just don’t be disrespectful. It’s not a joke or banter or locker room chat or girls’ talk.

Call your public relations people to craft a narrative of ‘I honestly don’t remember the encounter’,’I didn’t mean any harm’,  ‘it’s an addiction’, ‘sexual chatter’, ‘just old dinosaurs’. Resignation, rehab, mea culpa – sort of. A partial or pseudo apology has become the normal PR-crafted response. Should this really be the norm in PR? Time we refused to play the game? Stop protecting those who forfeit the right to excuses?  Change this time-worn narrative of crisis management?

What is shown as normal become engrained in how people view their own normality. My PhD research revealed an ongoing belief that normal careers involve hierarchical progression, reflecting the 20th century Mad Man norm of popular culture. The fact that this never normal for most of society doesn’t affect the normalised narrative of onwards and upwards.

Rise to the top, accrue power, reward, privilege, the right to do unto others as you wish – no longer do as you would be done by…

My thesis argues there is no normal career. The strategy employed by public relations practitioners is not the professionalised norm that is written or spoken about. Yet, we’re told to aspire to achieve great heights, to look up, to admire – to do what it takes. Claw your way up to a position above, from where it’s normal to look down on others.

I heard career stories where ‘old boys clubs’ and ‘hedonistic macho agencies’ were the norm in public relations. Where some are invited to climb and others are not.

A normative hierarchical narrative is engrained even when individuals’ own experience is different. They feel abnormal, blame themselves, if they don’t achieve the idealised “normal career” that is defined by the experience of the minority not the majority.

Careers for the few are not the norm. Careers for the many are not a tidy linear progress courtesy of one employer. Job for life, gold plated pension, better salary, bigger bonus.

The normal PR career strategy is to craft our way with backstitches, knots, fragmented stories, messy lives.

Yes, for some their career norm in PR may be easy, a good life. For others it’s a gig economy, low waged, no contract, redundancy, obsolete, automated out of a job, outsourced, replaced by the internet of things. Perhaps that will become the norm.

Maybe nothing is normal.

Image: Emoji cookie cutter from Pampered Chef

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

One thought on “Normal”

  1. Do people normally leave a comment?

    Seriously, as usual, great insight and provications.

    To extend your line of argument, is there a need for public relations practice to embrace the concept more of ‘social norms’ and that our goals can be to establish a new norm of behaviour rather than just attitude change?

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