Yaacob said norms. But what are norms?


By Tommy Wong

Referring to the recent NLB’s decision to pull three children’s books out of the National Library, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim defended NLB’s decision by explaining that it was based on “community norms”. This explanation poses an interesting question:”What are community norms?”

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, “norm” is defined as “something that is usual, typical, or standard”. Since the 2014 World Cup Final has just been successfully completed, it may be opportune to use this event to discuss “What is norm?” For those who played in the Final, are they “usual”, “typical” or “standard” soccer players? If they are, then they are “normal” players. If they are “exceptional” or “outstanding” players, then they are “abnormal”.

While it may appear “normal” to encourage members of a community to be normal, it is interesting to note that the world actually “honours” abnormal behaviours as their achievements are recorded in “The Guinness Book of World Records”.

Indeed, can a person with average achievements ever enter “The Guinness Book of World Records”? In fact, within a community, there will always be “high”, “average” and “low” achievers. If the “average” achievers are considered “normal”, then what about the “high” and “low” achievers?

In another context, “norm” may be defined as the majority within a community. So, for the minority, they may be considered “abnormal”. Using this definition, is it “normal” to become a world political leaders? Since very few can achieve that, they are “abnormal”. Is it “normal” to become world religious leaders? Since very few can achieve that, they are “abnormal”. Is it “normal” to become a world business leader? Since very few can achieve that, they are “abnormal”. In fact, all world leaders may be construed as “abnormal”.

In terms of eating and drinking habits, if most people (majority) eat meat, does it make vegetarians “abnormal”? If most people (majority) drink, does it make teetotallers “abnormal”? In reality, there will always be “normal” as well as “abnormal” members within a community. Is it possible to force everybody to be “normal”? Indeed, is it good to force everybody to be “normal”?

But how about family and procreation? At present, it can be said that most people form families and procreate. So, this can be taken as a “community’s norm”. On the other hand, there are religious practices that prevent their followers to form family and procreate, and these practices have been going on for thousands of years. There are also other members, through their own free will, choose not to form family and procreate. While forming families and procreating may appear to be a positive contribution to communities, there are countries with social policies that discourage (limit) procreation. There are also theories that there are too many humans on Earth and the natural resources may not be sufficient to sustain human growth. So, is it good to form family and procreate? Must everybody do it?

While some members like others to conform to a particular doctrine, nature actually thrives in diversity, and there is a wide variety in nature. At the end of the day, variety is the spice of life, be it “normal” or “abnormal”. Wouldn’t it be more human (humane) to live and let live?


Dr. Tommy Wong is the author of the book series “Wisdom How to Live Life”, and other philosophical, self-help books.