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"You are not normal" has become a compliment?

Aggiornamento: 28 set 2022

"'You are not normal' is the nicest compliment anyone has ever paid me."

This can be read on a placemat of a well-known pizzeria in the province of Milan, famous for providing "jobs, training and dignity to autistic people”, as the website literally quotes.

In light of this premise, the phrase may seem more fitting, while the message is unclear: what do they hope to convey with these words? What message are they trying to send?

I remember Tim Burton's 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter was one of the most beloved characters, played by Johnny Depp. I am of absolute belief that praising ‘madness’ as a defining characteristic of one’s identity was born after the release of that movie. After Alice pronounced the famous sentence "All the best people are crazy," everyone just started posting that quote on social media. The intention was to express the idea that "Being crazy makes me special."

I tend to frown upon this narrative self-depiction for several reasons. Firstly, are the dangerous messages so delicately placed behind it: "you are special if you are insane, otherwise you are not." Secondly, I do not appreciate the dwindling respect shown toward who truly suffer from a disability and those who are instead acting in pain to get a sympathetic ear.

There are two victiums in this line of thought and display, the truly disabled and those that must suffer from the self-curated insanity projected upon others by the actor.

Because those who are seriously sick tend to desire only one thing - to be ‘normal’. We are speaking about an idolized state, which is the result of a deep need to finally find a sense of inner peace and tranquility.

And this is precisely what is difficult about the psychologist's job: explaining that the ‘normality’ they are thinking about does not exist.

That peace is an achievement for everyone, although, unfortunately, far difficult for some than for others.

That this idealisation stems from the existence of the sharp contrast between what is considered to fall under ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ respectively, which is also fuelled by certain narratives, such as... "All the best people are crazy".

And here we return back to the original phrase. In fact, the concept is very similar: not being normal makes me unique.

While it is true that the biggest battles have historically seen the need for the imposition of a ‘strong’ identity over the current ones that society struggles to accept (think of LGBT+ rights), the risk is that we become so entwined with that identity that we turn it into a juxtaposition of categories with no possibility of finding common ground.

The classifications, instead of being smoothed out, end up creating an implicit contest where there is a winner and a loser thus going on to eliminate that precious complexity that characterises and unites all of us as human beings and reduces the concepts of ‘normality’ and ‘insanity’ to compliments.

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