Normally speaking: The law of averages ensures that the only norm is that there is no norm


I recently came across a news report which said that between 2010 and 2020, Indian women had grown taller by three inches and Indian men by two inches. So, according to the report, the new normal height of Indian women was five feet and three inches, and for men it was five feet and six inches.

This bore out what I’d been noticing for a while. Indians are getting bigger and taller day by day. In most cases, young adults, of both genders, are bigger and taller than their parents. This has been attributed to several factors, including dietary changes involving genetically modified food.

But what particularly struck me about the report was the use of the word ‘normal’ in describing the height of the Indian population.

The word ‘normal’ is used in everyday parlance. We talk about the monsoon this year as being normal, or above, or below normal. Temperatures this coming winter are expected to be normal, or above, or below normal.

The funny thing about this ‘normal’ that we so normally talk about is that it is, in fact, not normal at all. What is deemed to be the norm is based on the law of averages, which works by taking two extremes – the tallest and the shortest individuals, the wettest and the driest monsoon, the coldest and the warmest weather – and establishing a midway point, a median, between the two.

So, in order for the ‘normal’ Indian male to be five feet six inches in height there have to be a lot of strapping six-footers in the country, as well as an equal number of guys who stand no more than five feet in their bathroom flip-flops.

Similarly, a so-called ‘normal’ monsoon is an abstraction derived by taking, at one extreme, a year when the rains came down like a latter-day visitation of Noah’s flood and, on the other extreme, a year when the parched earth made the Sahara desert look like the Amazon rainforest in comparison.

By and large, or by and small, that’s the odd thing about the ‘normal’ – that, more often than not, it is quite abnormal, normally speaking.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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