Thought for the week: Kate McNally’s strange bedfellows

‘We are all abnormal. And that’s a good thing.’

‘Abnormal behaviour is often a simple exaggeration of the normal.’ | Photo: by Dan Parlante on Unsplash

It is by our “imperfections” that we move towards each other, towards wholeness of relationship. It is our oddities, our grittiness, the occasions when we hurt or are hurt, that challenge us to a deeper knowledge of each other. Our sins have been said to be stepping-stones to God.’ (Quaker faith & practice 21.07)

When I was training to be a psychologist, I took a class that was a little different from most. It had the unappealing name of ‘mental hygiene’. It was essentially a class in normal psychology.

Under the guidance of a Freudian psychoanalyst, we studied normal behavior. One day the professor said something that I will always remember: ‘Normal isn’t always healthy, it’s just what most people do. It’s just average.’ We learned that abnormal behaviour is often a simple exaggeration of the normal – a matter of degree.

She went on to say that differences from normal, ‘weirdness’ if you will, can be a mark of a strong character, often found in those who make important contributions to their community. To emphasise that point, she said (with a chuckle): ‘If I could have got my hands on Jesus Christ he would have been the best carpenter in the world.’

In this sense we are all abnormal. And that’s a good thing. Our differences from the crowd let us do the work we are called to do. Our weirdness is also often the thing that helps us to know what that work is.

I think of this sometimes, and am reminded that often the things that most annoy us about others are the things that enable them to do the work that we admire. George Fox’s arrogance allowed him to challenge the powers that be, and to persevere in the face of great resistance and personal risk. I wonder if Greta Thunberg’s Asperger’s allows her to resist the social pressure that would have crippled me as a teenager, and do what she knows is right. Closer to home, I think of a Friend who is annoyingly persistent when they want something, not taking no for an answer. It has allowed them to do amazing things in the local community.

As Quakers we sometimes celebrate our collective differences from the mainstream, from the normal. Our acceptance of those differences, those ‘weirdnesses’, can allow Friends to feel empowered to do work that others shy away from. Other times we find ourselves uncomfortable with individuals who are different from the Quaker mainstream – those who have a different theology, accent or way of approaching our Meeting.

What if we could accept weirdness as an integral part of our gifts? Would that change how we live with those who are not like us? Can we see the gift in the differences among those in our community? Can we show the love of God to those we would like to avoid?

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