Let’s be clearer and more precise about the world we want, as people talk about ‘returning to normal’ and others talk about ‘#NoGoingBack’. There is a difference between normal and states of being which have been normalized. What may feel ‘normal’ to us now may just be what’s been culturally normalized.
In Kazu Haga’s Healing Resistance, he talks about how people’s perceptions of violence are dependent on where they live and what they grew up witnessing around them:
“When we talk about a normal level of conflict, we are not talking about what has become normalized in so many communities. We are talking about a low-intensity level of conflict. Racism has become normalized. Poverty has become normalized. Patriarchy has become normalized. Ecological destruction has become normalized. So many things have become normalized in our society, and part of the work of nonviolence is to never normalize violence and injustice.”Kazu Haga
Even pre-COVID, we already existed in a state of isolation, separation, and disconnection. We lived in a world where public commons were already nearly extinct and non-commercial gathering places dwindling. We lived in a world where in-person gatherings were already fighting for attention and survival in an era of streaming, FOMO, and overwhelm. We lived in a world where people in cities lamented the challenges of finding friends and where people turned to apps and platforms for the basic needs which used to be fulfilled by a network of friends and family and community members. We lived in a world where we went to social media to share for our fix of “likes” when all we really wanted was to be in conversation with those we love; and the 2D screenspace replacement for our 3D lives in real time only served to exacerbate the feelings of not enough and of not belonging.
This is the world that has been normalized, but it isn’t normal. We are human creatures wired for connection. Rebecca Solnit writes about how in times of disaster, when the rules of society have been ruptured, shaken up, fractured, and displaced, and when sometimes the literal walls between us have been shattered, we get glimpses of our true nature — that of communally-focused beings. In times of disaster, we not only want to help; we just go and do, period. There is nothing stopping us from being our better selves. What has become normalized is all the blockers that dominant culture has put in place (for the most part driven by motives of profit) to prevent us from connection and community: single-family households, suburban driveways, car-first infrastructure, swipe-based dating apps, never-ending feeds, addictive distraction…a sense that we are only as good as our brand, only as valuable as our output, only as worthy as the success we achieve. And a sense that we are alone, on our own, one against many, in a fight for the top and what’s mine and what I deserve, and only by our very own bootstraps. Atomized. Isolated. Individual, commoditizable, replaceable units.
This is the world that has been normalized, but it isn’t normal. This is the world that is wired into our mindsets through cultural training, and a world that has been practiced in our muscles —- but it can be unlearned, rewired, deconstructed. And we can relearn, unforget, reclaim our normal ways of being —- the ways that are lifegiving and which can make your whole self-heart-body-mind-spirit exhale from a sense of relief.
And maybe you have even had glimpses into those moments of paradise:
- when you are giggling uncontrollably with friends about nothing at all.
- when you feel a sense of safety because you know folks have got your back and that you’re in this together.
- when you are in flow, in your state of selfhood, doing a thing which brings you real pleasure and rightness.
- when you work and work and work to build community and fail and fail and fail over and over again, until something clicks and it becomes easeful, and there are people, and they are here.
Together, interdependent, and sacred.