I’m mad and you’re not – by Karen Fainges

In my other life, I am a teacher. I teach Frontline Management, and one of the hardest things to get across to the students is that “normal” doesn’t exist. Everyone is different and needs to be treated with that in mind. So why bring that up here? Well, as a writer, we often make assumptions that people will not need something explained because “it’s normal’.

To give two opposite examples, my sister did Arts/Law at University. She was planning a day out with a fellow student when they passed a McDonalds. Suggesting breakfast, she was amazed when the gent just went and sat down. He had never been in a self service restaurant in his life and didn’t realise that you had to order at the counter and collect your food.

The opposite extreme was shown when IQ testing was first introduced to schools. Lower socio-economic areas regularly tested low. No one was surprised by that and let it ride until a member of that group finally made it onto the Board. Then they had the chance to point out that the tests were intrinsically flawed. Take one question – ‘how many people live in a three bedroom house if all the bedrooms are used? ‘

Whilst richer areas tended to say mum, dad and two kids makes four (the assumed correct answer) reality in the housing estates meant that anywhere up to 15-20 people could live in a three bedroom house. Four just wasn’t “normal”.

While it is unlikely your writing will center around exactly these scenarios, there are many everyday items that can catch you out. Is 10/03/69 the tenth of March or is it in October? If you are going to a GP, do you have to pay for it on the day (Brittain – not for Public GPs, Australia – yes unless they bulk bill, the US – what do you mean you don’t have insurance?) Does Christmas mean the snow or the sand? In this ever shrinking world, the chances your readers may be from a different cultural background from you, are increasing every day. By and large, this is a good thing, but it does highlight the need not to make assumptions.

So, what is “normal”?

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