Monday, March 1, 2010


People have to make themselves believe that the things that are happening to them are normal. This is a survival mechanism that allows humans, as a species, to endure; and yet it cripples us in so many ways. When something horrible happens, or is happening, how do we survive? We convince ourselves that it is normal.

We must reduce cognitive dissonance – which means we either must change what is happening or we must change what we think about what is happening. It’s amazing the tricks a mind can play on itself – the things we can convince ourselves are okay.

Women get beat up by their boyfriends or husbands, get cheated on, get disrespected. In many ways it is easier to change the way that you view that behavior than it is to change the behavior itself. And so they decide that this is normal. That this man isn’t bad, he’s reacting in a way that is understandable.

The problem is that it sticks with you – this idea of normal. You take it with you into the future, into all experiences that lie ahead of you. Once not trusting someone feels normal, you stop expecting trust. Once it feels normal to struggle, to be sad, to be lonely – you can convince yourself that anything more is extra.

I have been thinking a lot about the things that I have made myself consider normal – the things that quietly lower my expectations every day. All around me are students whose expectations are low – who believe that it is normal to not go to college, to live in poverty, to drink expired milk and to go without dinner. Talking about relationships, my students have convinced themselves that women getting beat up by their husbands, or cheated on, or left, is par for the course. They may not want marriage, because they don’t want this for themselves, but they don’t consider that there is another version of marriage.

In some ways, all of us adjust our expectations. And we must. It’s no way to go through life – always questioning why things are they way that they are, always wanting more. And yet, the people who change the world – the ones who really make a difference, are the ones who look at the way tat things are and ask why. There is an enormous strength required to ask this question – more than we give credit for. And it’s hardest when the circumstances are your own.

I can look at my students lives and ask why. Why is it that it is socially acceptable to be illiterate? Why do parents let their kids join gangs? Why are seventh graders having sex? Why, why, why? A million things that I can look at and question – but can I do the same in my own life?

It’s dangerous to accept bad things a normal. Until you ask why, you can’t fight for something better, can’t realize that you deserve something better. And yet, it’s equally as dangerous to open that Pandora’s box of want.

For me, and my friends, those I see around me, perhaps there was a time when you believed that you deserved more, and you have lowered your expectations, let go of that idea and embraced the possible. But what if, as in the case of my students, you never expected more – you’ve never even dreamed of better. How then, do you redefine normal?

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