Cultural norms : LUSENET : A Village Commons : One Thread

Are there any? I suppose in a broader sense there are. But, just because a behavior is (or is not) the "norm" for a culture or society, does that mean its a GOOD (or bad) thing, in and of itself?

I'm a medical transcriptionist for a psychiatric facility. I've also had some personal dealings with the psychiatric profession as an unwilling object of interest (had a bad reaction to an anti-depressant that I should never have been given to start with). In both these capacities, I've had a chance to view the workings of the psychiatric profession from both sides, and I've discovered (well, confirmed really since I already had a pretty good idea) that most of what goes on in the psychiatric profession is extremely subjective. That is, its in the eye of the beholder. Diagnoses, despite their cute numbering system, are mutable, hard to pin down. And an awful lot of behavior that is just "different" (e.g., outside whatever is considered the NORM) gets labeled actually deviant.

I have to be careful not to break confidentiality, but I'll try to give some specific examples of what I mean.

For instance, across most of our country gesturing broadly with your hands isn't done. This isn't the case in other countries. But if you're an animated speaker who gets physically involved (e.g. you make a lot of broad or sweeping gestures while you talk) that gets marked down as "inappropriate" behavior. God forbid some of these folks should be confronted by an Italian in full story-telling mode ...

OK, so its not "the norm" for people to do a lot of gesturing while they're talking. But I've known people who did so. They weren't nuts because of it, it was just their habit. Some people are naturally more outgoing and even the strictures of the cultural norm won't mitigate their natural behavior. There's nothing wrong with that - except in the turn-colors-into-black-and-white world of psychiatric evaluation.

I fit some of the "inappropriate" categories so often it'd scare me - if I thought there was any sort of validity to most of it. For instance, I don't bother with an iron, and I'm living in a 14' camper with no bathroom facilities while I build my house. Naturally my clothes get wrinkled. Wrinkled clothing is often tagged as a sign of something more seriously wrong. Women who don't wear makeup (I NEVER wear makeup, almost never have for most of my life) get demerits in the "hygiene" and "personal appearance" categories, both of which are used to bolster diagnoses of serious mental illness.

God forbid anyone at work should find out the true extent of my real-life living conditions. They'd have me trussed up, medicated, and neatly labeled in nothing flat. Needless to say I talk about myself VERY LITTLE at work.

The point is that psychiatry is largely in the business of enforcing cultural norms. Somebody, somewhere, decides what does and does not constitute "normal" (ergo acceptable) behavior, and from then on you are judged against these largely arbitrary standards. Obviously, hearing voices is not by any stretch of the imagination natural ("normal") human behavior. But just when did wearing makeup (or not) become evolutionarily adaptive, or necessarily a sign of the inner workings of the mind? Well, outside of Kiss and Marilyn Manson, I mean. LOL!

Am I bashing psychiatry per se? Absolutely not. There are a lot of truly troubled people out there, and by and large I'm glad I never have to get any closer to some of them than 10 or 15 minutes of dictation once a week from their therapist.

But it seems to me that psychiatry as she is practiced is really just the distillation and outgrowth of societal pressure to conform, the very pressure to conform that I see as being the root cause of an awful lot of the unhappiness that psychotherapy is putatively meant to alleviate! It's like trying to cure a bruise - by hitting it over and over again with the same hammer that caused it to start with.

If you think that's a little strong - try to think about it for a minute. Turn it around and REALLY look at it. Here we have someone who doesn't conform, yet is trying desperately to do so anyway, trying to "fit in". Not being able to fit in but trying to do so anyway causes immense psychic stresses. The NATURAL human response to such a situation is to become anxious and/or depressed. Then our nonconformist places him or herself into the hands of a usually quite well-meaning therapist, whose job is - to "help" the client FIT IN. And the criteria for "fitting in" are often totally subjective value judgements centered on what is considered to be NORMAL human behavior, which has not a thing to do with NATURAL human behavior.

PERSONAL goals that are perfectly natural to the individual, but which conflict with societal judgements of what is NORMAL and therefore somehow right are going to lose every time. Say, the personal goal of living with very little cash income on a plot of land where you grow most of your own food and produce, measured against the societal norm of having a "good job". There's not a thing unnatural about wanting to homestead, but its NOT NORMAL. Doesn't have to be about homesteading, either, that's just a specific example that I think we can all identify with here.

See the difference? All too often both client and therapist are totally unaware of the twisted dance they've become caught up in ...

Most anxiety and depression centers around the individual's real or perceived inability to "fit in" and function within "cultural norms" - norms that often change drastically within a single generation. When I was growing up, a woman who "slept around" would have been tagged sexually deviant (and sleeping around basically meant giving it up even ONE TIME outside of marriage). In fact, in my father's generation (and even in mine) there were literally tens of thousands of teenage mothers who were, without their knowledge or consent, stripped of their children at birth (and told the baby had died) and in many cases even STERILIZED because they had been judged to be too deviant to be allowed to breed and rear children by the standards of "normality" extent.

Yet, by the time I had reached my teen years, the change had begun - and by the time I got to college, it was a done deal. Now NOT having sex was viewed as the deviant behavior! And it still is. In a single generation, we went from platitudes about free milk and the cow, to platitudes along the lines of "you gotta kiss a lot of toads to find a prince".

The odd thing (to my mind) is that BOTH extremes are, in fact, deviant. Insistence on utter and complete chastity does not allow for normal expressions of human sexuality. And the insistence that you won't find love until AFTER you've had sex (implication more than one partner) doesn't allow for the natural expression of human emotions and the naturally strong ties between emotion and sexuality. Both views are attempts to divorce sex and love, and impose a "cultural norm" that has nothing whatsoever to do with natural human behavior.

I think the vast majority of homesteaders would, if forced into a psychiatric evaluation, "fail" the test. We don't follow cultural norms, ergo by definition we're already deviant. The thing is that all too often there is no distinction made between "deviant" and actually "dangerous". Hearing voices that tell you to kill is not only deviant, its dangerous. But not wearing makeup, or living in a home with no hot water is merely "deviant" - e.g., it deviates from the cultural norm. Unfortunately, part of our cultural norm includes the belief that deviancy is in and of itself a Bad and Dangerous thing, and always the harbinger of a greater, more evil, indubatibly destructive deviancy. Different is bad, and its become categorized and institutionalized - and those of us who march to the beat of a different drummer are at risk.

Its a great shame and a clear and present danger to the continuation of both our society and ourselves, I think. What do you think? :D

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), July 21, 2001


Hi Sojourner! Thanks for the invite to your new site. It's certainly off to a very interesting start!!! I personally prefer not to use the term "normal" for too many things. I don't believe that there is a norm that we can base all our beliefs on. Who determines what the norm is??? We have made our world a more confusing place in which to try to survive by placing those kind of "regulations" on each other. I'm sure that I'm not normal to many people, maybe even to my family, but I'm perfectly normal to myself. Until I try to compare myself with someone different than me and then I become abnormal. Thankfully, I have never cared about fitting in - don't like clubs, clicks, or any kind of group other than animal rescue groups. I guess I don't understand what the risk is. And now, Sojourner, it seems that homesteading has become almost a fad, and it also seems that many homesteaders feel that everyone else is abnormal! Different strokes for different folks - live and let live - and all that good stuff. Nobody's right and nobody's wrong. It's just the way it is!

-- Dianne (, July 21, 2001.

Hi Everyone. Sojourner,thanks for starting this new site. It looks like it will be interesting. I think the Media has much to do with how people view what is the 'norm'. Or rather what they view the norm to be. We are constantly bombarded with messages from TV, Movies, newspapers, magazines, etc. Even video games. Women must be thin to be beautiful, men must be rich, have the expensive car, and a full head of hair to be desireable. You have to be College educated if you want to be somebody, etc.etc. If you don't have or aspire to these things, then you just ain't nobody, or you're not normal. What ever happened to being a good citizen, being a hard working person, who pays their bils, saves some money, and takes care of their family? Nowadays, you have to be in hock up to your eyeballs, living in a house that is 5 times bigger than you need. 2 New cars/ SUV's in the driveway,closets full of fabulous clothes and shoes, a house full of new everything imaginable.Credit Cards. Kids MUST have the Nikes, the beeper,cellphones,the latest everything, etc. or they just don't fit in and are not normal. People ask me 'why don't you buy a NEW car'?('cause I like the one I have, and hate to be in debt.) 'why do you always wear THOSE shoes'? (cause they're comfy)'How come you WANT to make jelly, when you can just buy it'? ( because it is something I appreciate). This is not normal to them. Some people do not understand that not everyone thinks it necessary to have everything new, and in mass quantities, to feel happy, or normal. It seems as if people are brainwashed by all of the stuff that the media throws at them. If you mentioned the concept of Homesteading to some folks, they would roll their eyes, and think you should be put in a rubber room so you can't hurt yourself. I think it's a shame, because a little over a hundred years ago,(way before mass media) Homesteading pretty much was the 'norm'.

-- Sharon (, July 21, 2001.

Boy you lost me some where in all that, I lived in San Francisco for several years, and they would walk down market street butt naked, painted blue, Did I think they were nuts,I quess so. I got so that nothing surprized me. Yet I loved that city, There was a exceptence of everyone no matter what. I remember the flower children days of hyatt and asbury streets in San Francisco, I was in my early forties and would probably have joined them if I wasn"t married. But I became quite the Artist, from a teacher who was bombed out on drugs half the time.Most of these people went on and became ceo"s and have familys, Did I think they were kinda off, Only when they hitchhike with who ever. Lord I don"t know if this has any thing to do with this post or not. Just bear with me, Irene

-- Irene texas (, July 21, 2001.

Did you ever have what you thought was an interesting bit of trivia but no context in which to share it? Well, I do. The mention of Haight-Asbury and hippies reminded me and I felt like sharing it for better or worse. Everyone associates 'Hippies' with the flower children of 1960's San Francisco. The popular press referred to them that way and the name stuck. I'm not sure that the concept of "being 'hip'" didn't originate with that as well.

I thought some of you might be interested to know that the original "Hippies" were actually a business owner's group in San Francisco. The name of the group was the Haight-Asbury Independent Proprietors. The acronym for the group was HIP and members became known for their local political activism and were labeled "Hippies." Later, all people from the area came to be known that way and finally anyone with long hair and a different political viewpoint.

Nowhere to go with this... Just thought some might find it interesting. ;o)

-- Gary in Indiana (, July 21, 2001.

Sojourner, I think that it's in our genes to distrust oddity and outsiders. In paleo times it was safer to be with community that you knew, to eat the berries that you knew, etc. Different was by definition dangerous. Today we don't have to worry about that anymore for the most part, but the instinct is still there. So what do we do with our knowledge? We try and make everyone just like us by using laws and culture, like you mentioned. We should be celebrating our freedom from not distrusting difference, and instead we do the opposite and try and take the bell curve that humanity graces and turn it into an upside down "U", where everyone is in the normal range and no one can be outside it. I don't know if it's dangerous to humanity to do this or not, but it's unfortunate. The most interesting people are usually the ones way down the curve! I like to think I sit away from the standard deviation, myself. :)

Gary, I didn't know that about Hippies. Fun! :)

-- Jennifer L. (Northern NYS) (, July 21, 2001.

If you watch flocking birds you will see the quintessential strive for normality. Most flocking birds will strive to act normal (like all the rest of the birds) even if sick or injured until they are too weak to do so any more. Once that bird deviates (ofttimes by sitting fluffed up), the other birds will attack and kill it. This is a basic instinct to keep members of the flock together and acting in a unified manner, which is their sole method of defense. All of the birds in the flock must be alert and able to fly at a moments notice, this being the way they escape predation. So I guess what I'm saying is that we all act like chickens. My 8 year old daughter is affected more and more by peer pressure all the time. I think that preteen and teen years are the distillation of this part of our society. It is often not a pretty picture. I'm glad, for all of our sakes, that we're only in that period for a brief time! Normal has such a narrow and ever-changing definition, and the consequences for not meeting those standards are not nice.

-- Sheryl in ME (, July 21, 2001.

Sojo, Sounds like you have questions about yourself, your lifestyle and is there something actually wrong with me. To start, I myself have been defiant/different (or at least called so) since 13 yrs old. It began after my mom died and continues to this day.What I mean by defiant/different is nothing that is life threatening,although I have done many stupid things that could have led to it, but I blame them acts on inmaturity not defiancy. In todays society I have come to find there are levels of defiancy/differency that are accepted and once you exceed them levels then you are look at as somebody who has to watched or kept a distance from. My biggest problem is silly laws and over-bearing authority and what has been should always be,and don't upset the boat,add to that the fact that I am a free-thinker and too independent for my own good. For the most part I find most people of society very closed minded and at the same time very willing to go along with the crowd. A example of my defianence would be 2 mths ago I got a speeding ticket and have yet to pay it because it was stupid for them to give it to me (I was going 5 over the speed limit) and I was doing no harm to anyone, but now since I have not paid it,it has gone from $85.00 to $115.00 plus a $25.00 fee to get my license back (they suspended it). I still drive my truck because in my thinking a drivers license does not prove anything about the ability to drive. (several millions of people have DL's and get in accidents,don't know how to stop,use their turn-signals,etc.)I'll paid it someday but till then i will continue to drive. I also do not beleive in the most normal of norm's for the masses and that is the divinity of Jesus!! and that alone can cause you be shunned in certain parts of society still even today and looked at like you have lost your mind. I am almost 50yrs old and I have a 18ft tipi in my backyard that I hang in and cook in most of the year. I tanned deer hide in my driveway, on certain days I hang my flag upside down, I wear knee- high leather moccasins, I dog-sled down the street of our cul-de-sac, etc.etc.... But at the same time I have a part-time job and side business and help with wife's parents farm and have 4 children ( 1 girl is in college,1 has his own business,the other 2 girls are still here),a wife (I think she's still here somewhere), 2 vehicles, etc. (the norms for society) So am I different? Yes I am to alot of people. am I someone to stay away from? alot of people do so. How do I handle the norm's that I live around and with,I now just consider the source and know that we are all different in our own ways and that the people who would look down on me have their own problems and are just afraid to express their life and so they in turn, being afraid of not being accepted by society, accept the norm's of society and the norm's become them. I actually feel sorry for them. Just remember, A whole new country was founded because of deviance and by people who saw life different!!!!!!!

-- TomK (, July 22, 2001.

I just wanted too add that cultural/society norm's change from generation to generation. A example would be, 30 yrs ago for someone to pay a person with little education 10 million dollars a yr to play baseball, they would have been laugh out of the meeting but now it's not even thought twice about and yet at the same time somebody who goes to college 8 yrs and countless hrs of seminars,etc. and wants to make $200,000 a yr and at the same time saves hundreds of lives (so that them lives can go see that 10 million dollar baseball player) is look upon as a rip-off artist. Go figure that one out and it will drive you crazy and make you want to shun society because they are all nuts out there.

-- TomK (, July 22, 2001.

Hi Sojourner,

Best of luck with your new forum. I saw your post on CS and came to visit. Looks like you have a great thing going from the numbers of posts/threads already! I just wanted to share a few experiences and some information pertaining to your post here.

I too worked in a psychiatric day treatment facility in Waldorf, MD. The company was run for profit, their name was American Day Treatment Center. They were a private for-profit that made money from insurance comapnies. I revealed their name because they are now bankrupt and defunct. I worked for the center located near Washington DC. They had several centers, all very nicely decorated ones around the suburbs of DC, Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Fla, to name a few places. I was so tickled when i got my first break into teaching and landed a job that paid $35,000 a year. We lived in western NYS, south of Buffalo, and there were some hard economic times there, no jobs and i couldn't find a teaching position to save my life due to the politics of the unions there. they would psot jobs, but they already had a hire, just did it because legally they had to. And i knew that too because i was a member of a school board... don't ever got to a Babe Ruth baseball game you just might end up getting recruited like i did. LOL:):) So I returned to school to study special education which i should ahve done in the first place but because i was a single mom the 40 mile hike every day to Buffalo was too much, so i went into secondary social studies. Well... enough flappin' about that. back to ADTC

I began my position in Dec. 93 and was in awe of the money the company pumped into the facility, then shortly after i started and began sitting in on the morning team meetings i realized why, they were milking the insurance companies of their monies allowed for treating psychiatric porblems. i worked in their educational program. We had a person market ou program to the local schools, so if they had students who were depressed or sucicidal (sp?) they came for treatment. And if they had Champus the military insurance then all the better. Even though the person was better after a few days of treatment they were still kept, we were told to look for things like them not talking or looking depressed and then we had the nurse call and ask for more time for treatment. heck, they ahd some folks there for as long as 5 months! And immediately anyone who came in was given paxil or Xxnax (sp) and prozac, whichever worked better. then our center began loosing money because we were not treating enough patients and they got this new marketing director, he was afellow who wa s arecovering addict and he immediately went to the juvenile facilities and got a contract for transitioning the boys form there to "society" Now there wa swhere the problems set in and i submitted my resignation. These fine young men would harass the older adults, one even light a elderly lady's hair a fire in the van on the way home. they also provided transportation as well. But the kicker was when one of the young boys pulled a gun on a therapist. I was not there that day, i interviewed for my new position forther south in VA, Thank GOD!

The part that made me loose a lot of respect for many psychiatric centers was the method they used to milk insurance. To me that was unethical. But they ende dup burying themselves in the end with their overspeandings and care. they are now long gone and probably were the biggest detriment to the field of psychology!

You mentioned eye contact and gesturing. Eye contact is one of my pet peeves in teaching. Many teachers will send student to be evaluated for special education or say they have Oppositional defiant disorders because they do not give eye contact. They forge tthat this may be a cultural factor. Many eastern cultures do not give eye contact out of respect. Also, for many with Autism, especially those with Aspergers, they do not seek eye contact. And thats another entire issue completely for me. I get peeved too when children with autism are evaluated and then classified as severe 7 profoundly disbaled because they do NOT conform to taking the test in the method of portocol. Which is the norm. I better jump off the soap box here or i'll be going on all day.

Heres a story about Lynchburg, VA and the notrious institution tha tused to be housed there. The history of Lynchburg Institution is not widely mentioned nor has it been because it is Virginia's shame. And rightly so, after all Hitler had connections to the place. Hitler was studying eugenics and wa sin contact with the dr there at the time who preformed the procedures on the patients. It is rumored tha the didn't use any type of anthesia because his thinking was, "They are not normal, so how can they fee pain?" The dr there at the institution gave Hitler an honorary degree as well. hitler took all this information and implemented it. The letters of communication between the 2 were used as evidence in the Neurberg (sp?) trials. Folks were institutionalized not only for being disabled, but for being drunks, criminals, deliquents, unwed mothers, orphans, and so forth. When i read what you wrote about sex i had to mention that about the insititution. Also, Native Americans were housed there as well, and there was a man who was in the st assembly who so hated them that he had "blacK" written on their birth certificates. Sorry and shameful times for VA definately.

I also wanted to mention i can relate to your comments about not letting anyone know at work about living without electricity. When we moved from VA where we lived close to Waldorf, MD, we bought a farm, actually 35 acres of cutover. We lived 2 & 1/2 yrs without electricity. i didn't say much about it. We had running water and used the bathroom, had to manually flush with a pail, but hey, sure beat getting poison ivy on the butt! I often miss those days, used to be so peaceful and I got a lot more done and sleep as well.

Well..... i've rambled on enough here. Just wanted to share. Take care.


-- Bernice (, July 22, 2001.

Cool thread. When I lived on my hilltop in Tennessee, I didn't have alot of interaction with the outside world. I'd never wear makeup and always had my bibs or jeans and workboots on. Now that I'm in town, I still wear no make-up and still wear the same type clothing. Do people think I'm strange? Don't know. I'm 44 now, and really don't give a damn, I guess. When we first moved here, the neighbors thought I was strange for putting in a garden, for canning, and it seems like everything else. When I think of "out of the norm" people, I always wonder what kind of parents they had. My own parents, were the kind that taught us to be individuals. When I was young and would want the kind of clothes other kids had, my parents would tell me, not to be like everyone else. Be yourself. This kind of teaching also kept me out of drugs(no peer pressure), I hung around people who I liked instead of who I "should" have and the list goes on and on. It also taught me to be more tolerant of others who were in any way different. Religion, politics, monetary status, etc....After all, everyones different! I think when parents try to make their kids like everyone else, they're teaching their kids exclusion right from the start. The parents follow society and neighbors, the kids get taught from example, and you have the circle go round and round. Kinda sad. Individualism is a good thing to waste!

-- Annie (, July 22, 2001.

WOW! You guys are all GREAT! I feel right at home. I tell people one of the lessons I learned in life is that it's fun to be politically incorrect. Have always had contempt for the "establishment". Love to hear the thoughts and feelings of all of you. Thanks again, Sojourner!

-- Bonnie (, July 22, 2001.

I agree with Annie most parents today want there kids to be just like all the others,I want mine to be the best person they can and enjoy the gifts/ talents they were born with. When I was a kid all I wanted was a normal family I thought we were the only kids with a drunk for a dad, well as it turns out out of 10 houses on our block 5 had drunks. I guess what I'm trying to say NOBODY is normal we all have problems and we're all different we need to learn to embrace the differences.

-- Nan (, July 23, 2001.

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