February 27, 2012

The Problem of Normalization

First I want to say what I mean by Normalization:
Normalization is the process by which humans take the history and opinions of their own personal lives, assume them to be normal, and then expect history and opinions of others to be similar.
Normalization is the primary way in which humans make sense of the world. Therefore, it is a very important process, for without it, it would be difficult for us to maintain our sanity.

However, normalization causes a great deal of problems as well. First of all, there is the basic problem of how we communicate. We usually assume that what we are saying is perfectly understandable, but often we completely miss how someone will respond to what we say. The same word can mean something very different to someone else, or someone can have a very different take on a topic.

Then there is the reverse of that, where you assume that they way you received something was what was intended by the speaker. This is especially true if the speaker received something negatively. The most common experience I have had with this is the "big word" problem. I have a decent sized vocabulary, and sometimes I use a word that somebody else doesn't know. Because they assume their vocabulary is "normal" they believe the only reason that I am using a word they don't know is that I am showing off. The truth is I didn't know they didn't know the word.

Probably the biggest problem though is the normalization of one's abilities. We assume that because something is easy or difficult for us, it is therefore the same for others. This causes us to have expectations on their performance which is often very unreasonable. The simple sentence "Well just do..." often demonstrates this principle. If it is obvious to you to do this "simple solution" and somebody else doesn't see it or doesn't want to do it, it often means that solution is tied more to your personal abilities than it is to what's "easy".

Logic is the probably the ability where this happens the most, and it is where it is the most fallacious. One of the things that very few people realize is that all logic is based off of unprovable presuppositions. What is worse is that my basic presuppositions may be very different than yours. So what to you appears to be common sense may appear to me to be completely illogical. Dr. Olson once referred to these different perspectives as bliks (an odd term, yes, but a worthy concept). Often in certain conversation, it seems like you are speaking an entirely different language than someone else. But perhaps the real problem is that you are assuming that your "blik" is normal, and fail to recognize that the other person is common at this from a completely different perspective.

Now it is important to note that I am not a relativist. I believe that there is only one true reality. But I do recognize that once you are interacting with someone else, you need to take the time to consider that you are not the standard of what is normal, and that the other person may be different than you in more ways that you initially realize. All interaction is give and take, and it behooves you to balance it out.

1 comment:

bethyada said...

It is not just when people assume others should think like them; it is frustrating when you explain how someone has certain beliefs or assumptions, and such assumptions are so alien to the person listening they deny that such people exist.