My experience of normal feels challenged these days. It is showing up a lot. It shows up when I navigate my responsibilities in the hospital. Eavesdrop on conversations around me. Pretty much every time I tune into the news. I find myself witnessing many things being treated as normal today when a decade ago… no way. My sense of normal is confused.
My operating presumption of normal is as a reference range of something healthy or working at some optimum level. The other part of the assumption is the vast majority of us, along with the systems we make up function in this range of normal too. Some of you reading, may be seeing that infamous bell curve of school grades. You may be recalling it to be cleanly symmetrical across the graph with flashing images of a contorted curve skewing to right or left. That ability of the curve to shift saved many of us from flunking out of some impossibly painful classes.
By the way, the systems we make up includes everything. It is our government, economy, schools, health system, environment, food industry, laws, and law enforcement. We are our systems. We are our systems when they work well. We are our systems when they fail us. We collectively define the shape of the normal curve. This happens regardless of our awareness. The more relevant question for me is whether we stay healthy when the majority start to skew the curve off-center. My knee jerk response…not necessarily.
What about normalizing? Normalizing is returning back to a standard state. This can happen in one of two ways. We can undo the process that shifted our curve to begin with. In other words, we course correct. Alternatively, we can declare the skewed curve as a new normal. Depending on the circumstances, either option could represent our better interest.
So, what happens when the curve of our well-being shifts off center. We adapt. Adaptation is our survival response to stress after-all. Our adaption response has a physical component in our physiology. That is the fight or flight overdrive of our sympathetic nervous system balanced by the compensatory mechanisms of our para-sympathetic nervous system. It has an emotional feeling dimension too. In the absence of listening to our anger, fear, sadness, and shame when the curve changes, we grow numb to keep going. As you can imagine, our intellect will also join along in the adaptation party by perceiving a new normal even if it is not really normal.
We are amazingly adept at adapting to new things all the time. In recent years, the clothing industry adopted new normals for sizing garments to accommodate to the reality of obesity. I was a size 8 forever and overnight became a highly coveted size 6 without diet or exercise. The gratification was short lived since it quickly became all about being a size 4. The FDA accommodates the processed food industry by not listing a recommended daily intake of sugar the way it does for vitamins, fats, and minerals. When you look at a label it does not give you a ball park on how much sugar is ok to eat. We think that is normal too. While I was growing up, consuming a 40 oz Super Big Gulp of Coca-Cola at Seven Eleven was also normal. It was certainly a good value given my allowance but I never considered the health implications. Why would I? I was 13 and fitting in with everyone around me.
It is important to understand how vulnerable we are to adapting and ultimately accepting anything as normal when we are inundated by it enough. This is a bigger problem today than when I was 13. Today there is a tsunami of stuff hitting us on our various screens all the time. We hearing it too. Over and over again all around us by so many people. Some of those people we really trust. We have the capacity to normalize almost anything even if it is not healthy for us. By the way, this form of normalizing is the philosophical underpinning of marketing and propaganda. Amazingly, we are using the word propaganda less in the age of Facebook politics. Is that normal?
Our adaptive capacities are amazing. Our survival and our destruction are equally entangled in our adaptation process. It is the heart of our resilience at the end of the day. Let’s be clear, I’m not dissing on adaptation at all. Just curious about how to adapt wisely. What is that process that cuts through the chaotic breeding ground of confusion and gives birth to clarity?
The difference in the path towards normalizing healthy vs. normalizing our demise is discernment. Discernment is a conscious proactive process that is personal to each of us. We can look beyond ourselves to gather information and add to our contemplation. Yet, our discernment of what to trust and the choices we make are uniquely our own. Discernment is at the heart of self-aware choice.
I’m inviting us to question what we take for granted as normal. What have you adopted in your life simply because everyone else has? What is part of your lifestyle today because there appears to be no other choice? How do your choices impact your curve of wellbeing? When have you adapted by normalizing a new normal in place of a course correct?
As always, looking forward to reading your comments and engaging in a dialogue about conscious adaptation through discernment.