Normalization is a double-edged sword

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One after speaking to the media, Sunday, March 24, 2019, at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla., en route to Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One after speaking to the media, Sunday, March 24, 2019, at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla., en route to Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Normalization, when not being used in the mathematical sense, is the process by which certain behaviors and concepts become normal, or taken for granted, in our society. The term has become increasingly popular in reference to certain repeating events. For example, there has been much talk about how the sheer number of mass shootings in the U.S. has normalized their occurrence for much of the U.S. populace. Another issue that has constantly been discussed is concern over normalization of certain behaviors exhibited by the current president, such as his constant lying. 

The examples I have mentioned certainly have a negative connotation, but it’s important to understand that normalization is necessary for any society to progress. Take civil rights, for example. It was one thing to outlaw segregation and other discriminatory practices. But it was only through the normalization of using the same water fountain or sitting in the same section of the bus that our culture actually changed for the better, making previously ostracized people more welcome. Normalizing equality, therefore, is something that we want to pursue. 

In other scenarios, normalization can create significant problems. Take the aforementioned mass shootings, whose normalization has resulted in several consequences. First, while people do not fail to acknowledge these tragedies for what they are, the acuteness of their sting can dull as more occur. This can make it more difficult to muster the willpower to enact changes in regards to gun violence. When we engage in this mindset, we do past victims a disservice and certainly fail those who fall in the future to this scourge. The fact that we as a populace are by and large no longer shocked when a school or place of worship is shot up is highly depressing. It is the kind of event that should prompt immediate action by a society, not a predictable flowchart of events.

Clearly, normalization can go both ways. It is conducive to some forms of positive advancement, but inhibits others. The question then becomes how to identify what we want to be normalized and how to avoid the normalization of other events.

The first question is by far the more difficult to answer, because humans will naturally disagree on behaviors they want to see society adopt. For my part, I see things like the normalization of LGBTQIA relationships (in real-life as well as cultural mediums) as important progressions our society should be making. While I am clearly in the right on this issue, there are others who will vehemently disagree and fight to keep this change from occurring. I suppose the best one can do is to advocate for cultural norms that they believe will improve people’s lives. Then all you can do is hope you’re on the correct side of history. 

While we may disagree on what we would like to avoid normalizing, it is certainly beneficial to discuss how to bring about normalization in general. However, the process is different based on the situation. To avoid normalizing mass shootings I think people need to dedicate time for reflection each time one occurs, rather than letting them be swept away by the news cycle. Even if it hurts to dwell on them, it is better that we feel pain than nothing at all. When it comes to Trump’s behavior, the best we can do is consider the actions of past presidents and hold that as an ideal. It is especially important to educate those who may not have known anything else about other examples of world leaders who did not exhibit the demeanor we must suffer through on a daily basis. 

Ultimately the ways in which we fight normalization will vary based on our abilities and the circumstances being considered. The important idea is that we must fight undesirable normalization wherever possible, even if we only fight it in ourselves. Because every person that asserts that mass shootings or bigotry is not something we should accept brings us one step closer to a better world. 


Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.