Baseline Normal

by Billy Cole

The teenage years are never easy. Even with a supportive family to guide you through the challenges of peer pressure, academic pressure, personal anxieties, and hormonal imbalances…the teenage years aren’t easy. Even when discipline is fair; when criticism is constructive; when the family budget allows for three nutritious meals a day…the teenage years aren’t easy.  Even when a young person can wake up in a safe and clean home, attend a safe school, and enjoy a day free from abuse – returning home each night to a place of comfort and love; when life is normal…the teenage years aren’t easy.

For all human beings, our baseline for normal reflects what we experienced most in our childhood, (love, attention, neglect, deprivation, or violence). That baseline then becomes what we consider to be “normal.”  This baseline normal concept was developed by Russian therapist Marilyn Murray. Her book The Murray Method, describes how a healthy person may have a high baseline for normal, while others’ is in the gutter. In his autobiography, Mike Tyson explains what he learned from Ms. Murray by describing his baseline normal as a life of “sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, more sex, more alcohol, more violence, and chaos,” and that was before he ever found fame and fortune in the boxing ring.  Murray strives to teach adults to break their addictions to chaos, and to raise their baseline normal to a place that is healthy.

As a volunteer at Mentoring Plus, I was able to see the drastic (yet obvious) difference between my normal life and the “normal life” of the teenagers in our program. I always knew that the electricity would be on in my house. There would always be a roof over my head, and I returned home every day, confident that my family and belongings would be safely inside that house. The kids we serve sometimes return home to find their few possessions on the street, eviction notice on the door. My mother would have a meal prepared for dinner. These kids can rely on one good meal each day: school lunch. Summer time brings with it 12 weeks of doubt and hunger for meals. The “sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, and chaos” that Mr. Tyson describes was non-existent in my life, and yet it is a constant part of the lives of the urban youth that reside right here in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

The real challenge for me, as a mentor, is grasping that their disadvantaged lifestyle isn’t viewed by them as disadvantaged. Their struggles aren’t some great obstacle to overcome. Those challenges that I see: abuse, poverty, uncertainty, malnourishment, sexual misconduct, drugs and alcohol; are all just a normal part of life. This is their baseline normal.

Marilyn Murray’s career has been built on helping adults to reverse the damaging effects of a lifetime spent with that baseline far below the ideal. We spend every day teaching young people what normal could be – what it should be. Love and encouragement, balanced with healthy discipline and clear expectations will elevate that baseline to a place where one actually feels safe and secure.

Everyone who is involved with Mentoring Plus is helping shift the baseline normal for so many of our youth.  If this is the kind of difference that if you are interested in making right away, please contact Robin to get involved with this wonderful organization.