How to Talk to Normal People: A Guide for the Rest of Us
January 28th, 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

A lot of us don’t know how to approach normal people. It’s not our fault. We don’t have a lot of exposure to them. They’re not really suited for the kinds of work and leisure activities we enjoy, and they have enormous difficulty relating to other people. Interactions with them tend to be awkward.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of not reaching out across the divide. Sometimes, when I see normal people coming down the sidewalk, I will cross the street. It’s not that I feel unfriendly toward them, exactly. It’s just that they’re so unpredictable. Will they be determined to overcome their challenges and give me a smile? Or will they give me a blank stare in response to my friendly hello? I’m ashamed to say that I’ve often taken the path of least resistance and simply avoided normal people altogether.

But however lost they are in their own worlds, they are part of our world, and it behooves us all to reach past our discomfort and welcome them as God’s angels here on earth. After all, we can’t consign them to endless rounds of small talk and cocktail parties, right? I know that they say they enjoy watching football every Sunday and trying out the latest local microbrew, but really, it’s just their normalcy talking. They don’t know how spare, how empty, how narrow their lives really are.

So it’s up to us to bring them out of their shells. I’ve walked among the normals and entered their world. And now I’m here to share some wisdom about how we can help them feel more included.

1. Breaking the ice

One of the easiest ways to get to know a normal is to simply walk right up to one and show how much you care. Don’t hesitate. The next time you’re walking across the parking lot at the supermarket and you see a normal getting out of his car, go right up to the person and show interest in his life.

I know what you’re thinking: How do I even begin? Start with the basics. Be straightforward. Ask him whether he was born normal.

Now, be prepared. It’s not uncommon for a normal person to respond to this question as though you’re nuts, but don’t be put off. Normal people aren’t used to others taking an interest. So be persistent. Ask a series of probing questions. I suggest the following:

Have you always been normal, or were you in some sort of terrible accident?

Did you mother take some sort of medication while she was pregnant?

Do you think your normalcy is environmental, genetic, or some combination of both?

Have you been vaccinated? Was your mother vaccinated?

Are you able to father children?

Now, if you’re talking to a well-adjusted normal person, he’ll be very appreciative of your questions, and he’ll have quite a lot to teach you about the experiences of real normal people — things you can’t learn in any book by any expert, I assure you. And he’ll give you all this information for free, so you won’t need to pay big bucks to go to a conference. After all, he has nothing better to do with his life, and he knows it.

But some normals don’t feel grateful for the attention. These sorts of normals are what we call Bitter Normals. They are angry at their normalcy and they will take it out on you. They do not care about your good intentions. They just want to make you feel as badly as they do. These are the kind of people who tell you to fuck off when you’re just being friendly. If you run into this sort of normal and you’re feeling particularly generous, you might want to end the conversation gracefully by saying, God bless you. I’ll pray for you. But if you’re not in that kind of mood, it would not be unreasonable to simply mutter asshole under your breath and walk away. After all, you’re only human.

2. Being helpful

Because normal people aren’t capable of governing their own lives — or even knowing their own minds — it’s up to the rest of us to be of the utmost assistance.

I know what’s going through your head right now: How can I possibly give these poor souls the help they need? And you’re right. The problems are wide and deep, and as a lay person, you shouldn’t be trying to make major decisions for these people. Where they live, what they do for work, and who they spend their time with are decisions best left to their caseworkers. But if you look closely, you will find a plethora of opportunities to be of service.

For example, suppose you are in the supermarket, and you see a normal woman in the produce section, trying to decide what kinds of apples to buy. Under no circumstances should you say to her, You know, I can never decide between Macintoshes and Granny Smiths myself. What do you think? How do you decide? A normal person is ill-equipped for that kind of conversation. It’s far too complicated and demanding. Instead, you must be proactive and take it upon yourself to choose the apples for her, based on your own best judgment. Do her teeth seem solid enough for Granny Smiths, or would she be better of with the softer Macs? Can she afford the Granny Smiths, or should she economize? Once you’ve made your decision, simply put a nice bag of apples in the woman’s shopping cart, give her a friendly pat on the shoulder, and be on your way. It will be a story she’ll tell for years to come.

3. Showing appreciation

A lot of us work with normal people, and good working relationships require mutual respect and expressions of support. Sometimes, we can feel a bit shy about expressing how inspired we feel by the ways in which normal people carry on with their lives, but we need to overcome our reticence. We need to express just how much normal people mean to us.

It’s not difficult in a work situation to express this sort of appreciation because, in contradistinction to the Bitter Normals who just want to drag us down into their misery, workplaces are full of people known as Super Normals. These are the people who have worked their asses off to overcome their normal deficits. They seem almost exactly like you and me. In fact, until you really get to know them (or read their ground-breaking and courageous books), you can’t even tell that some of them are normal at all.

These people make it easy. Choose from among the following expressions of goodwill:

If you hadn’t told me you were normal, I never would have guessed!

The way you walk across the office on your way to the coffee machine is so graceful! How do you do that?

Way to work that copier, dude! You’re an inspiration!

I’m sorry that your parents died in that terrible normalizing accident, but you’re a credit to their memory.

4. Welcoming your child’s normal friends

It’s inevitable. With normalcy approaching epidemic proportions, your child is going to have normal classmates, and these normal classmates will want play dates with your child. I know that your tendency will be to try to protect your child from being held back by some of the habits and behaviors of the normals, but embrace this opportunity. It has the potential for deep personal and spiritual growth for yourself and for your child.

Arrange a play date around the needs of the normal child. Your child may want to stay home and read a book, and he may not understand why little Johnny wants to play outside and pretend that every object he finds is a pretend gun, but use this experience as a teachable moment. Explain to your child that people are different, that little Johnny can’t help who he is, and that we must be accepting. You might even consider having the play date at a family-style restaurant at which little Johnny can be disruptive and draw the ire of the other patrons. When confronted, you can calmly explain that little Johnny is not your son, but that you are trying to broaden his horizons and give him the opportunity to circulate amongst regular people. The other patrons will either be ashamed of their own selfishness or think you an utter fool, but either way, you’ll be laying up treasures in heaven.

5. Sharing your knowledge

It goes without saying that normalcy is a tragic and pitiful state, but science is making new breakthroughs every day. While we don’t know the causes of normalcy and there is no cure, a number of excellent treatments are available.

Keep an eye out for news stories that mention the latest science, and make certain to send links to all of them to all of your normal friends. The proper form is to always use the subject header Did you see this? I thought it might help you! It doesn’t matter that multiple family members and friends will send the same links about the same junk science to the exact same people. What matters is that you show that you care.

Because this is what normal people want — to know that they’re not alone, to know that we want to help, and to know that we are thinking of them.

Just don’t let it take over your life.

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

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