1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

2. serving to establish a standard.

“Why can’t you just be normal?” As someone who grew up in a secular household and later became more observant, I get this kind of question a lot. And while I’m perfectly comfortable with not being “normal,” I also wonder what’s so special about normality.

We all want to be accepted; I get that. But since when is “normal” synonymous with “good” or “right” or “moral”? We often look around us to see how we should act. Whatever is “done” or “not done”—that’s where the bar is set. To deviate from that would be silly. You must be brainwashed to act in any other way. Meanwhile, the ideals and attitudes and philosophies of this elusive thing called society are constantly seeping through the floorboards. Whether we realize it or not, they dictate how we live. Or, I should say, can dictate how we live.

Are we all being brainwashed?Dare I ask, but are we all being brainwashed?

Back to the point: where do values and morality originate? Our generation and our parents’ generation, perhaps more than any other in history, have grappled long and hard with this question. If they are made up by people, and people are fallible, then why should we bother with them? On the other hand, they inform the rules that govern our society, and without those rules we would be left with chaos, so does it really matter where they came from?

There is an important distinction to be made here. Morality is not the same as prudence or effectiveness. We trust governments to provide us with a system of rules which hopefully help us live productive lives and achieve justice to the greatest extent possible. Obviously, this is very important and valuable. But, as Nazi Germany has so clearly taught us, governments and their leaders are not inherently good. The realms of Law and Morality do not necessarily intersect.

This is, I think, the crux of the problem: Once we reject the possibility that human intellect is—despite its incredible achievements—truly limited, and the possibility that something (whatever you choose to call it) exists beyond the limitations of intellect, our question becomes not which values or value system to accept, but whether we should accept any value system at all.

The message parents often send their children, consciously or not, is a simple and powerful one: that we should make decisions not based on any sort of concrete Truth, but by looking around us to see what other people are doing—how they dress, what activities they enjoy, how they define success, how they incorporate religion into their lives, how they conduct relationships, and so on. We should strive to be normal—in other words, to live our lives according to what is popular, fashionable, acceptable. Yet, at the same time, we are told when we are young that we are all beautiful little snowflakes, special and important in our own ways. In short, the confusing message is, “Be unique, but don’t be different.”

So, I suppose, my question is: why are we looking all around us to see what we should be, rather than honestly and authentically trying to figure out who we are and why we’re here?

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked, “If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?”