By Troy Headrick
With the exception of LinkedIn, I’ve totally gotten off of social media. When I quit posting on Twitter and Facebook—quite a long time ago now—I went cold turkey and stayed clean for many months. Early in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 situation was beginning to ramp up in the United States, I started looking at Facebook again. I did so only as a form of “research.” I wanted to see what the public was thinking and saying about the spread of a novel coronavirus.
About mid-April I found an interesting post written by a friend of a friend of a friend of someone I’m related to. (In other words, a person I’ve never met or spoken with.) In the post I’m referring to, the writer was angry and began by railing against the idea that we are living a “new normal”—a phrase he abhorred—during this moment in world history. He went on to say that social distancing, working from home, and being deprived of the pleasures of shopping and going out to restaurants is a long way from normal and that he had no intention of allowing himself to be convinced that this period was anything other than unacceptably abnormal. He finished up his post by listing all the activities he would engage in as soon as we “beat the shit out of this virus.”
The post got under my skin, and I started thinking a lot about the term “normal.” The more I thought, the more I realized that normal, at least when it’s applied to life, has less to do with how things are “out there” (in “the real world”) and more to do with what’s going on in the human mind when one looks at reality.
The individual who posted on Facebook clearly had a template in his head about what life is supposed to look like (when things are “normal”) and he was dissatisfied because the world wasn’t currently conforming to those ideals. This mismatch pissed him off to no end. Most would recognize such thinking as magical thinking or wishful thinking. It is also very egocentric to think that the entire natural world has to submit to the desires of a single human being.
I think I’m very comfortable right now—despite all the minor inconveniences we are currently experiencing, and I have to say, because I’ve been lucky up to this point in time, that no one I love has gotten sick, so I’m aware that many are understandably uncomfortable (and even worse than that) right now, but not because they’ve simply been inconvenienced—because I don’t carry around a firm set of ideas about what “normal” is supposed to look like. There likely was a time when I did see the world in this way. But then I spent nearly two decades living in a variety of European, Asian, and African countries and realized that “normal life” can look one way in one location (and at a particular moment in time) and then change very dramatically if the circumstances that create feelings of “normalcy” change.
The old saying “Variety is the spice of life” really does ring true to me. A person who has had a variety of life experiences and is open to being changed by those experiences is likely to have a hard time holding on to a rigid view of what life is supposed to resemble. I guess you could say that I’ve become a cultural relativist—and every other kind of relativist too. Years ago, I quit thinking in terms of something being too shocking or too weird to be believed or to be thought of as unacceptable.
Today, when I look in the mirror, I see lots of gray hair. This is my new normal and has been for at least a handful of years. There was a time in my life when I had really dark hair that made a strong contrast with my generally pale skin. When I was a child, I had auburn hair—my mother’s genetic contribution—and even paler skin than I had when I was in my twenties and thirties. This points out that I can’t even count on myself for remaining “normal” across time and space. Every single day I change, and I’d be a fool to expect that the Troy I see and observe today is going to be same Troy I see and observe tomorrow.
The Stoics believe that the only constant is change. Those of you who read me regularly know that I am a practitioner of Stoicism, so I’ll finish by recommending, once again, that everyone read Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic thinker, and study his thoughts on normalcy and change.
I look forward to your comments.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.