Fitting Into Societal Norms

by dovetailedlife

Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with a lack of discipline in many areas of my life. I was never one who thoroughly enjoyed exercise or the simple discipline of it and I LOVED eating. As time has progressed and my metabolism has been unable to keep up with my poor habits, my body has taken the brunt force of those “bad” habits and it has become a factor of embarrassment for me as I try to relearn what it means to take care of my body, from the way that certainly seemed more “natural”.

So, recently, I’ve been watching what seems to be the new trend in television: shows on losing weight. After all, when A&E does a series, you know it is the trend. I suppose it most likely started with “The Biggest Loser”, but “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” and A&E’s own “Heavy” have been most popular in recent months. I’ve watched significant portions of each show, trying to wrestle with how these people came to be in the position they are, what lifestyle decisions they’ve made, and why it is that they can’t seem to change themselves, by themselves.

All of the participants in these shows are significantly overweight. More than I ever hope to be. Yet, I still find it intriguing because I recognize their lack of desire to work and equate it with my struggle as well. No, I’m not 500 pounds, I’m not even that close to half of that, but I figure that if I can learn about what it is they need to change about themselves, perhaps it will assist me in changing myself as well.

The question always seems to be begged: why is the change necessary?

These people break down into two distinct groups (as I can see it). About half of them have been overweight since birth. The other half had some sort of traumatic experience in their lives that has driven them to compulsive eating. Most of the second group deal with some sort of depression.

The first group, though, is the most interesting to me. They’ve always been overweight. They’ve always eaten a lot. They’ve rarely exercised. Surely some of that is due to their upbringing, the sudden growth of fast food, etc. However, it makes me wonder, why is it that they never exercised? Why is it that they ate more than a normal human should? And I wonder these things because I wonder them about myself as well. Why is it that I chose to go play the piano or guitar before going for a run? Did I not find running interesting? Did I find running painful? Why is it that some people are encouraged when the pain sets in? Why is it that some people can easily fight through the pain when others of us cower in fear? If it is “natural” to exercise, why is it that most of us don’t? Why is it that we come up with easier ways to get around so that we can avoid exercise at all cost?

Surely when our societies were hunters and gatherers, we were in great shape because we had to hunt down the food we were going to eat that night. And we weren’t eating fried potatoes.

But that wasn’t sustainable for the long haul. It seemed easier, and profitable, to do the hunting FOR other people. Then we’d sell them the food. That’d make it easier. Then we’d be able to feed more people more efficiently. And we are humans…we love efficiency. We build tools to help us be more efficient.

It’s obvious what has occurred: we’ve built tools to help make our lives easier. That’s why we are all addicted to our smart phones and iPads. We spend more time inside than any generation before us. We walk and run less than any other generation because there are enough distractions other than exercise. And it has come to the point that when we are walking around the mall our mood goes down when we see stairs, because we’d rather ride the escalator.

But I return to my original thought: discipline. Have we become undisciplined and lazy?

Or, has laziness simply become a byproduct of progress? Or “naturally”, are we more inclined to create tools to help us? Or is the hunting and gathering mindset what is really “natural”?

Which leads me to my ultimate thought: does what is “natural” always fit into a societal norm? And, is what is “natural” always the high road and good?

Some people are born with a chemical imbalance that leads them to abuse alcohol. We all know the phrase, even after you’re clean, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” On ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth”, one of the characters is an alcoholic. She’s hard on her biological daughter who chose to drink prior to being an adult. The daughter didn’t understand why she was being so hard on her. But the mother explained that she simply doesn’t have luxury of being able to have one drink. It’s not possible because of who she is. But just because her bodily inclinations and behavior lead her to act in certain ways, doesn’t mean that society thinks it is okay to be an alcoholic. We look down on drunks.

The same is true of drug users.

The same has been said of gay people.

And so, I suppose the question ought to be asked of societal norms: are societal norms (and accepted practices) based on what we might consider “destructive” behavior? In other words, do we judge others’ actions because what they do puts them (and often others) at risk of dying sooner than they might?

The extremely obese people will die because their body and heart simply can’t keep up. Alcohol abusers will drive themselves out of house, home, and family, because they use alcohol to cope. Drug abusers run the very real risk of overdosing or taking something that they thought was something else.

And they all become addicts. They become so engorged in what they are doing that they don’t care about anything. They lose their families, they lose their jobs, they lose their lives.

Because these things…the unnatural foods, the copious amounts of alcohol, the drugs, all seem…unnatural.

The laziness is unnatural. Because that’s not how we once lived.

And we draw this line to connect the dots between “unnatural” and “destructive”. And we assume, in almost every instance, that these two are inherently connected.

And if we think under that paradigm, we can perhaps see why homosexuality has been treated, in our society, the way it has. Biblically, it seems unnatural. Many of the conservative voices have argued time and time again that it is “destructive” to our society because it breaks down how we view humanity and the design of a family. Many view it as an addiction, one that can be “treated” (see Michele Bachmann’s husband).

Because we’ve connected those dots. We operate under that mindset. We equate “unnatural” with “bad”. We think everything that is “unnatural” is “destructive”.

There’s no doubt in my mind that many of the Biblical writers (for the most part) consider being gay (or participating in homosexual acts) “unnatural”. AND, because of the societal norms of their culture, and the cultures working against them, they equated “unnatural” with “bad” or “sinful”.

So the question becomes: can we read “unnatural” in the Scriptures and equate it with our definition of unnatural now…post French Fry? Can we read into God’s creation of Adam and Eve and assume that that is what is “natural”?

Because that is what we are doing. We are reading texts out of context. We are placing our own 21st century definitions on words used thousands of years ago. And we assume, that because what seems unnatural now has proven itself to be destructive, that that’s what “unnatural” has always and will always mean. And we assume that what society currently considers “normal” behavior is the correct way to be. And when we do that, we lose sight of humanity and of God’s creation of it.

It’s a tough thought process, one with unclear implications and most likely more divisiveness than unity. It’s troubling.

I was not born with an inherent desire to exercise. I have always been a fan of progress. This is the “unnatural” reality I live in. At the end of the day, I really like my iPad…but I still need to exercise.


Yes, I know this doesn’t make a clear and decisive argument, as you might be used to getting. That’s because I’m not sure this can all be answered.