What is normal?

I’m half way through The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho at the moment (no spoilers, please!) and feel compelled to share a clipping from it. I don’t have much of pertinence to add other than the clipping function on the Kindle is proving to be a wondrous boon for a scatty minded person such as myself. Ebook cynics take note, please.

The clipping is rather simply a list of the various definitions of ‘normal’ one of the characters has encountered over his life. Here it is:

The Winner Stands Alone (Paulo Coelho)
– Highlight on Page 53 | Loc. 883-947

  1. Normal is anything that makes us forget who we are and what we want; that way we can work in order to produce, reproduce and earn money.
  2. Setting out rules for waging war (the Geneva Convention).
  3. Spending years studying at university only to find at the end of it all that you’re unemployable.
  4. Working from nine till five every day at something that gives you no pleasure at all just so that, after thirty years, you can retire.
  5. Retiring and discovering that you no longer have enough energy to enjoy life and dying a few years later of sheer boredom.
  6. Using botox.
  7. Believing that power is much more important than money and that money is much more important than happiness.
  8. Making fun of anyone who seeks happiness rather than money and accusing them of ‘lacking ambition’.
  9. Comparing objects like cars, houses, clothes, and defining life according to those comparisons, instead of trying to discover the real reason for being alive.
  10. Never talking to strangers. Saying nasty things about the neighbours.
  11. Believing that your parents are always right.
  12. Getting married, having children and staying together long after all love has died, saying that it’s for the good of the children (who are, apparently, deaf to the constant rows).
  13. (A.K.A. 12a) Criticising anyone who tries to be different.
  14. Waking up each morning to an hysterical alarm clock on the bedside table.
  15. Believing absolutely everything that appears in print.
  16. Wearing a scrap of coloured cloth around your neck, even though it serves no useful purpose, but which answers to the name of ‘tie’.
  17. Never asking a direct question, even though the other person can guess what it is you want to know.
  18. Keeping a smile on your lips even when you’re on the verge of tears. Feeling sorry for those who show their feelings.
  19. Believing that art is either worth a fortune or worth nothing at all.
  20. Despising anything that was easy to achieve because if no sacrifice was involved, it obviously isn’t worth having.
  21. Following fashion trends, however ridiculous or uncomfortable.
  22. Believing that all famous people have tons of money saved up.
  23. Investing a lot of time and money in external beauty and caring little about inner beauty.
  24. Using every means possible to show that, although you’re just an ordinary human being, you’re far above other mortals.
  25. Never looking anyone in the eye when you’re travelling on public transport, in case it’s interpreted as a sign you’re trying to get off with them.
  26. Standing facing the door in a lift and pretending you’re the only person there, regardless of how crowded it is.
  27. Never laughing too loudly in a restaurant however good the joke.
  28. In the northern hemisphere, always dressing according to the season: bare arms in Spring (however cold it is) and woollen jacket in Autumn (however hot it is).
  29. In the southern hemisphere, covering the Christmas tree with fake snow even though winter has nothing to do with the birth of Christ.
  30. Assuming, as you grow older, that you’re the guardian of the world’s wisdom, even if you haven’t necessarily lived enough to know what’s right and wrong.
  31. Going to a charity tea party and thinking that you’ve done your bit towards putting an end to social inequality in the world.
  32. Eating three times a day even if you’re not hungry.
  33. Believing that other people are always better than you -better looking, more capable, richer, more intelligent – and that it’s very dangerous to step outside your own limits, so it’s best to do nothing
  34. Using your car as a weapon and as impenetrable armour.
  35.  Swearing when in heavy traffic.
  36. Believing that everything your child does wrong is entirely down to the company he or she keeps.
  37. Marrying the first person who offers you a decent position in society. Love can wait.
  38. Always saying ‘I tried’ when you didn’t really try at all.
  39. Postponing doing the really interesting things in life for later, when you won’t have the energy.
  40. Avoiding depression with large daily doses of television.
  41. Believing that you can be sure of everything you’ve achieved.
  42. Assuming that women don’t like football and that men aren’t interested in home decoration and cooking.
  43. Blaming the government for all the bad things that happen.
  44. Thinking that being a good, decent, respectable person will mean that others will see you as weak, vulnerable and easy to manipulate.
  45. Being equally convinced that aggression and rudeness are synonymous with having a ‘powerful personality’.
  46. Being afraid of having an endoscopy (if you’re a man) and giving birth (if you’re a woman).

A passing thought from a little bit later on in the book, which also seems relevant:

‘Since time immemorial, men have believed that being close to something unattainable and mysterious can bring blessings.


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