Tag Archives: normal

The considered life

It’s good to pause and take stock. Ask yourself what you are doing, and why. How much is unavoidable? How much just seems unavoidable because you haven’t had time to stop and rethink it? Making the space to stop and examine your life every so often is a really good thing to do.

It’s so easy to become trapped in things because they seem normal. Everyone else is doing it… but on closer examination it may become apparent that you don’t have to do it, it isn’t obligatory. We get trapped in our own habits and routines, and whatever seems most normal can be hard to even  notice. How do we use our time? What are we doing with our lives? How many hours are lost to the mobile phone, to the commute, to things that give no joy and serve little purpose…?

Sometimes what traps us is systemic. It’s illness and poverty and the rules of our governments and unfair and prejudiced systems. It’s important to be able to see those things, to know what you have little power over, and what might be sorely limiting the people around you.

I don’t believe we can all manifest whatever we want. I don’t believe we can all suddenly turn our lives around to make them perfect. Grand leaps of faith into happier ways of living are only really possible for the person with no responsibilities, and a safety net made of money. Following your dream is easier if you have the cash to fund your dream. 

Even so, there may be changes to make. There may be small wins to go after. And yes, sometimes it does feel a lot like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. But, why not? If the ship is going to sink anyway, why not have the best seating you can while you can. Why not have some goodness and some hope wherever you can find it. That doesn’t mean compromising your future for the sake of a few short term kicks, but it also doesn’t mean compromising the present moment when there’s no real reason to think doing so will improve your future expectations.

A considered life always has more options in it than one where we are just going through the motions.


Green, or Normal?

One of the biggest obstacles to living more sustainably, is our idea of what’s normal. This is something that impacts us at the personal level, and as wider societies and cultures. Normal is comfortable, and for many people, just imagining an alternative is difficult. We don’t automatically question things we think are normal, and we all tend to resist change away from what’s comfortable for us.

Most of us at this point are used to wildlife degradation. We’re used to seeing almost barren landscapes presented as beautiful. If we’ve never seen them covered in trees, or rich grassland, if we’ve never seen them complicated and thriving we won’t know that the thin covering of grass they now have is a disaster. We’re used to living with few songbirds, and not being surrounded by wildflowers. We don’t miss things if we’ve never known them. This means we are comfortable with situations that are actually grim.

If you grew up being driven everywhere, then cars are normal. You won’t think of your feet or a bicycle as modes of transport. You might not have shoes for walking or a body that can walk a mile or two at need. You won’t have an emotional relationship with walking and you will have an emotional relationship with your car. Changing this isn’t easy.

If you’ve grown up with foreign holidays and flying as normal, you may feel that you’re being asked to give up a lot in cutting back on that. If you grew up with throwaway clothes, and throwaway toys and an expectation that anything can go in the bin when you are bored with it, just the effort of recycling can seem like a big deal. Reducing, reusing, repurposing and repairing will seem very alien indeed.

We take ‘normal’ as a measure of goodness. We see the normality of the commute, and not how much of our time it wastes. We see the normality of the food we’ve been told is tasty and convenient, and not what it costs our bodies and not what it does to the planet.

It really doesn’t help that ‘normal’ has an advertising budget. Every day you are subjected to ideas and imagery in the form of adverts that reinforce a wasteful and consumerist society. Car adverts are normal. It’s hard to see these things when you are steeped in them.

It’s also easier to make changes if you can see what those changes would look like. It’s easier to re-think what we consider normal when you can see someone else doing differently. Doing all the mental work to deconstruct your reality and social norms on your own is not easy, and for many people it may not even be visible as an option.

This is why it’s so important to share what you do. The upcycling projects, the veg plot, the lower carbon choices… What we do on social media really can make a difference because it shows other people that ‘normal’ isn’t the only option.

This week I questioned the normality of the vacuum cleaner. The old one had broken, and was a cheap one so getting replacement parts would be difficult. This kind of device isn’t made to be repaired. I wondered what we might do that would be better. I prodded the internet a bit. Repairable and more efficient and eco friendly vacuum cleaners exist. Hurrah! But there’s also very expensive. It was only then that I started to ask why we needed this device specifically. We’ve bought a floor sweeper – it will pick up dust. The cat and I do not have to endure a noise level we both find stressful. It has almost no parts and those are repairable and replaceable, it uses no electricity, and there’s so much less of it that if it breaks irretrievably it represents a far smaller impact.

It’s all too easy to default to things because they seem normal. Questioning that is a constant process for me.


There is no normal to go back to

The idea of ‘back to normal’ has appeared regularly in ideas about a post-virus UK. As though our previous ‘normal’ was a good thing. It’s increasingly obvious that many people do not want to go back to how things were, and that there’s less appetite for long commutes, heavy traffic and air pollution. For people who have had an opportunity to learn from the virus, new, exciting ways of doing things may emerge.

For many people, there is no normal to go back to. For some, very little changed – many people are isolated at home by illness. They’ve had more stress and pressure in recent months but many of the practical realities haven’t changed much, except that it was far harder to order shopping online. As the rest of us ‘go back to normal’ hopefully we can remember that not everyone has that option. We might all better understand now what being forced into isolation does to people. We might be more alert to the ill, disabled and elderly people around us who live in isolation because no one much bothers with them.

For people whose lives were precarious, there may be no real normal to go back to. Early on, the government demonstrated that they could get every homeless person off the street and into a room, if they felt like it. A few weeks later they went on to demonstrate that they really couldn’t be bothered to keep doing that. We can, and must do better.

For some people, back to normal means going back to being excluded. We’ve established that many things can be handled at a distance using the internet. We could make work, entertainment and socialising a lot more accessible for people whose ‘normal’ is exclusion.

Recent months have made me aware of what it means to have a ‘normal’ you can measure things by, and what happens if your sense of the normal is dysfunctional. The idea of ‘back to normal’ only works if what you had before worked for you. If it didn’t, if you were on the wrong end of systems, and economics, if normal was miserable and hopeless – there is nothing you’d want to re-instate. The idea that there is a normal everyone wants to get back to is, I realise, a massive expression of privilege and insulation from suffering. For the worker on a zero hours contract, for the person forced ever deeper into debt, for those facing benefits sanctions and going hungry, ‘normal’ is a terrible place.

We live in a culture that takes ‘normal’ as a meaningful measure, and never properly questions what that means or who it works for.