The New Normal

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I am fascinated by human psychology and the role it plays in society and what we interpret as societal norms. Personality, personality disorders, mental health, and what we typically call human nature fascinate me. They are part of my professional life as well as personal interests, and we are living in very interesting times!

I think by now most everyone has heard the phrase “new normal“. We are entering and defining a new normal for society. A worldwide pandemic is bound to leave its mark on the world and apparently, we must adapt.

Humans are wonderfully adaptable, even malleable creatures. We have an incredible ability to learn and shape our thinking and personalities to the world around us. This was once a very useful tool in our evolutionary journey. Survival of the fittest. Survival often depended on the ability to adapt and fit in, sometimes a very good thing, but on the other hand, what if we adapt to something ultimately dangerous?

Herd mentality is real. Most of us want to fit in and be part of something, and sometimes decisions to follow the herd are conscious. Think back to high school and how important it was to be liked, to be one of the cool kids. Many of us may have emulated them, dressing like they did, styling our hair the same way, trying to make the football team or whatever those we perceived as better were doing. Those are usually conscious decisions. We are choosing to do certain things to fit into a group we see as desirable.

Then there is the unconscious conditioning, or brainwashing. We have all heard the stories of charismatic cult leaders convincing their followers to drink poison, kill, or give up all their money for the cause. Maybe a dynamic politician telling his citizens what they want to hear, how he and his political party can make their lives so much better, and oh by the way Jewish people are bad and the cause for all of their problems. Where have we heard this before?

The unthinkable happens every day, and those who are part of it never see a problem as they follow along. It is really quite easy to become part of whatever is the norm, or new normal around us.

There was a time when humans did not wear clothes. There are still remote tribes around the world that haven’t adapted to wearing clothing, and judging by the stories we’ve heard lately about people being warned to wear pants when checking their mail or attending Zoom meetings, we aren’t all that far past the clothing free norm! There was once a time when divorce was unheard of, now people have “starter marriages” and retirement relationships. Is this new normal good or bad? That’s pretty subjective.

Seatbelts, gay marriage, legal marijuana, all these things are now normal, but they were not always. Good or bad? That depends on who you ask. The point is that we adapt easily, to both good and bad things. The idea of change for the benefit of the “greater good” is one of the most powerful tools to bring about change. Remember that charismatic leader who promised a new, stronger, utopian Germany?

Today we are told that we are entering a new normal. A world of masks and social distancing, no more handshakes or large gatherings. It is for the greater good. We now need apps on our phone that record our movements. It’s OK to report your neighbors for having more than ten people at their kids’ birthday parties. Small businesses cannot possibly protect customers against a virus, we can only go to large, chain stores. In addition to full body scans and possible strip searches at the airport, we may soon have to get our temperature taken and provide the data from the contact tracing app on our phones. We already have surveillance everywhere we go, but under the new normal that may become a good thing. It is for our safety, and for the greater good of society, remember?

Whether or not masks and social distancing are good is subjective, but the fact is these things are becoming law, despite the protections of freedoms under the bill of rights. These things are becoming law and many people are actually happy about it.

So what is next? Now that the governments of the world have seen how remarkably easy it is to control citizens and override personal liberties, what is next? What will we be told is the next essential adaptation needed for our safety or the greater good, and what might we lose to obtain it?  Never forget that Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  What are you willing to give up?

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