Bruce Cockburn sings, “The trouble with normal is that it always gets worse.” What did he mean by that? Cockburn is an activist and like many who want the world to become more just there is a lingering feeling that the world sets its clock to “normal” and lives without reflection. One could say that much of the world cannot afford the time and expense that is necessary to do anything other than survive. But there is a sizable population in western democracies who do have the time, energy and drive to make the world a better place. Their enemies are large corporations who have a vested interest in the status quo. We can see that. That dynamic, change vs. more of the same, is obvious and the interests of both sides make for powerful conflict.
But there is another layer of opposition that activists face and it’s called indifference and the defenders of “normal”. Apathy and indifference are not new and this way of thinking will never go away. There is built into the human condition a sense that it’s better to just move on and leave things as they are. Change takes work and many people, unless they or someone they love are affected, are simply not going to strike out on a new path for the sake of someone they don’t know. Sad but true.
But there is another layer of opposition to the forces of social change and these are the defenders of the status quo who stand where they do not for reasons of economic advantage but for reasons of acceptance of how things are now. These folks may actually be losing ground economically to the status quo, change may be in their self-interest, but they are so socially and culturally tied to the way things are that they will fight hard to maintain everything just as it is.
Too much questioning, too much experimentation, “thinking too much” just makes some people uneasy and ultimately angry. This frustration is borne of a sense that if people would just accept things as they are everyone would be happier. It’s an odd way to think and yet it represents that majority of our population. Given a choice most will opt for the existing set of norms.
And so for people like Cockburn making the necessary changes to create a new world, more just, more caring, more balanced, there will be the conflict with the “powers”, there will be the constant need to inspire the apathetic but there will also be the inertia of the status quo, the “normal” people who are threatened by change and stand ready to oppose any tinkering with what is.
During the season of Lent Christians are asked to consider what needs to change, personally and collectively. Too many Christians limit such reflection to “I swear too much” or “I will give up chocolate”. Such piety leads to very small and marginal change. The big issues of poverty, racism, homelessness, and climate change don’t get address by a “swear jar” and the lack of sweets in the home.
The time comes when what we accept as normal may be overrated and change is required. If left on its own normal can, and often does, get worse.