Thursday, June 21, 2018

The New Abnormal

We've all been warned about the 'normalization' of previously unthinkable acts with the president as the main example.  Things that would have destroyed every past president, Trump does daily with (so far)  impunity, because enough Republicans in Congress put their reelection above the good of the United States.  

But I'm noticing something else - ordinary acts of decency, that used to be pretty routine, are now glorified and persons involved are given hero status.  Here are two stories from the ADN in the last two days:

Man helps woman in wheelchair (Link goes to theWashington Post version ADN reprinted)

Bilal Quintyne was on a training run and saw a 67 year old woman stranded in a broken wheel chair.  He stopped and pushed the chair (whose battery had died) home, a 30 minute walk.

We used to expect people to do that sort of thing.  When we arrived in the 1970s, Alaskans knew if they skidded off the road, the next passing pick-up would pull them out of the ditch.  Bilal was on a training run, and pushing the balky wheelchair for 30 minutes would work different muscles maybe, but it wasn't a big departure from what he was doing.  Was it a good thing to do?  Yes, of course.  But not helping would have been shameful.  In the old days helping others in need was expected of us all, like saying please and thank you.

People find engraved bracelet on Seldovia beach and return it to owner

This was in the letters to the editor today.  Again, this used to simply be common decency.  People looking out for each other.  This one is a little different because it's a thank you from the person who got the bracelet back.  So it's not the editor picking up a story and highlighting it.  But there have been others of late, particularly on social media.

The Point

I have mixed feelings here.  On the one hand, these kinds of actions should be everyday occurrences.  Unremarkable.  Simply people helping people because that's what decent people in a decent society do.

On the other hand, it's not a bad thing to remind people that these things are occurring all the time. So, I guess I'd say we should get these kinds of stories - I'm sure they inspire others to copy them - but we shouldn't make these folks out like heroes, like unusual events.  Rather, people who don't do these sorts of things should be pictured as troubled.

And, of course, if someone helps another while taking great personal risks, then, yes, that shows heroism.  But not finding a woman in a broken wheel chair and helping her get home.  Not finding an engraved bracelet and tracking down the owner.  Those should be treated as normal behavior, not heroic acts.

Our perception of things like the prevalence of crime and human decency tend to be anecdotal and emotional, not fact based.  I've written here before that when  highlighting a car crash death, the reporter ought to also mention how many people did NOT die in a car crash that day.  Just to help us keep things in perspective.

I'm all for stories of people doing good deeds, but keeping them in perspective as what a decent citizen is expected to do.  Not making the good samaritans into  heroes doing unexpected goodness.  We shouldn't be making doing good deeps into the new abnormal.


  1. Well, since you mention it, I am also so sick and tired of anybody in uniform who does their job being described as a "hero." Apparently that includes being shot or dying on duty. And ironically, it also includes not dying on duty...

    Yes, many soldiers, police and firefighters do brave things but certainly it takes something out of the ordinary to make you a hero. If everybody is a hero, then how do you describe the guy who, shot in the leg, nevertheless drags his wounded buddy and four bystanding children to safety while capturing 100 prisoners singlehandedly? (duh -- a superhero!)

    1. I totally agree. It's also about stereotypes that assume someone is good until proven wrong - the opposite of prejudices that assumes someone is bad until proven wrong. These positive stereotypes are part of what people talk about 'privilege' - as in white privilege. This is vet privilege. People can have some privilege characteristics as well as being the victim of negative prejudices. So when someone sees a black vet, do they see the vet or the blackman? And which is stronger? The positive or negative prejudgment?


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