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Posted May 28, 2013 | Leave a comment
Chastity Harris: The new normal
By Chastity Harris
Have you noticed the new normal?
I don't mean the big changes. The "back when I was a kid..." stories. I'm talking about the gradual change of what has become acceptable in society. What we consider a normal part of our day.
The day of the horrific Boston bombings, I was on the road all day. I was working on the storyline of my next novel in my head, so I'd kept the radio off. When I reached my sister-in-law's that evening to pick up my children, she was watching the coverage, and I got my first glimpse of the tragedy.
When one of my 7-year-old daughters passed by, she glanced at the television and said "someone just set off some bombs." She went back to her playing, as if she had told me it was going to rain.
For this generation of children, violent shootings and terrorist attacks are a normal occurrence of daily life. No big deal, they happen.
Her words stuck with me in the weeks following the event, more than anything from the flood of media coverage.
Currently, there is a feast of political scandals for the news media to feed on.
I hate to go back to the, "when I was a kid," but really, when I was in high school you could keep track of all the major political scandals. When someone was called to testify before Congress, it was a big deal.
I walked in while my husband was watching the evening news a few days ago. After five minutes of listening to experts arguing over one another, I had to ask him which scandal they were talking about. I was thinking Benghazi cover-up, they were discussing IRS targeting.
Let's not forget about our daily interactions with people.
As a woman who frequently travels alone, I'm alert in parking garages, suspicious of strangers following or standing too closely, and vigilant in dark hotel corridors. I've been trained to be safe and anti-social.
While traveling abroad as a teenager, one of the guides pulled all the girls aside to go over extra safety measures. She explained that in interviews with serial rapists, a common determining factor in selecting their victims had been that the women made eye contact with them. Was it true? I have no idea. To this day I still find it difficult to meet a strangers eyes when passing on the street.
People are often shocked by a friendly good morning or a door held open. An act of kindness can be met with outright suspicion. We've built a cynical protective barrier to protect ourselves from a changing world. In the process, we've cut off the joy of human connection.
There have been many movements of late for random acts of kindness. A popular version is to do an act of kindness for every year you've been alive on your birthday. Is it your 30th birthday? Then 30 acts of kindness are in order. They are small things to improve someone's day. Taping a bag of change to a vending machine. Taking a shopper's cart back in from the parking lot. Leave a treat in the mailbox for your mail carrier. Take cookies to some neighbors or the elderly. You get the idea.
I think it's a wonderful concept, but when did we become a society that needed a special movement to go do these things? Wasn't being kind to others normal behavior at some point?
I will never forget a kindness done for me while I was pregnant with my first child. It was July 3, the day before he was born. It was hot, as July tends to be, and I'd just finished grocery shopping after work. Standing at the back of my car with a cart loaded with groceries, I was just staring at my open trunk, hoping the food would magically jump in.
Right at that moment I heard a beautiful thing, the voice of a co-worker asking if I needed help. She'd been on vacation all week, I didn't even know she was in town. Normally, I would be too proud to accept. I would insist I was fine. This time, I said yes. Never, had I been so happy and relieved in my entire life. It took her just a few minutes, but I will remember it until they put me in the ground.
What if kindness wasn't so random? Could it be our new normal? I propose we institute consistent kindness instead. Greetings would be common place. Helpfulness would be mundane rather than miraculous.
I'm not so naïve to think that consistent kindness would transform the world into a safe peaceful place, at least not in one generation. We still need to be careful and vigilant. I think you're probably safe saying good morning to most people on the street, though.
What's going to be the new normal for you and your family?
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