We all like to feel secure. Popular culture tells us to be and think positive. As the years pass we develop a world view, which is our perception of reality based on our own experiences and those of people close to us. And because we are not normally creatures of change our world view becomes more solidified as time passes and we grow older.
Psychologists use the term normalcy bias. There are many definitions of this term, but the shortest and most succinct one I could find says “…is that it is an assumption that nothing bad will happen in the future because nothing bad has happened in the past.” The normalcy bias then is a defense mechanism that tries to protect us from worry and stress. Being presented with information or ideas that are counter to our existing world view is uncomfortable. If we feel pressured by someone who wants us to believe this new idea or information we shun the person. And in some cases even become hostile or even aggressive towards him or her. I found a little story called “Normalcy Bias: It’s All In Your Head” on a site called The Survival Mom.
For as long as I can remember I have been a realist, or someone who is inclined to believe the worst and have nice surprises when things turn out better than expected. I’m not sure how I ended up that way. My best guess is that I inherited the tendency from one or both parents. Or else it boils down to a personal decision or choice of how to approach things that come up in life.
After I retired and spent more time reading and investigating social/political topics that interested me. A good example was what the “truthers” were saying to challenge the official story of events of 9/11/2001. When I discovered things that even shocked me, my natural first inclination was to share with other people. This was my first encounter with what I have said here–for the most part people didn’t want anything to do with what I was telling them.
Because I was assuming that the reaction of friends and family would be the same or similar to mine I was very surprised by their lack of engagement. They say that people who like me are born under Sagittarius are curious by nature. And I was curious about this resistance or reluctance to react in any way to what I was sharing with them. So I spent many hours looking for the answer, which is how I came to discover what I have shared here. None of what I learned helped make it easier to get friends and family to engage more and discuss the ugly truths I was discovering. But having a better idea of what causes their resistance did at least help me feel better.
In my own psyche I was challenged with whether I could or should believe things like the idea that the American government had perpetrated a BIG lie on the people. Most likely because I am a realist I relied on common sense, which in turn led me to accept the uncomfortable ideas as true or probably true. Coming to grips with this was not easy. Much of my own previous world view was turned upside down. Like most people I tended to believe that people are generally good rather than evil, including our leaders. The ‘hurdle’ then was getting beyond this and swallowing the reality that what I had believed before was actually not true. None of this happened overnight. It is a process.
I found a series of videos that addresses this process or transition to overcoming denial. The ‘stages’ described are actually an adaptation of the stages of grieving as defined years ago by Helen Küber-Ross. The first stage or step is overcoming denial, as explained in this short video:
People who encounter new and “challenging” information are stuck in this mode. They prefer to believe whatever the authorities tell them, which is mostly what they hear on the TV news. If they don’t hear it in the news, then in their mind it isn’t real. They go along with the crowd for fear of being looked upon as strange or crazy if they start to believe something that other people don’t. Ms. Küber-Ross defined two types of denial:
The first is simply not wanting to know the truth because it might upset their happy life. This is the “ignorance is bliss” belief held by many people who think that if everything is going great for them, then why ruin it with the truth? People often say or think, “I don’t want to know because that reality is too scary for me.”
I fully understand why so many people prefer to adopt this way of thinking. Unfortunately an ostrich cannot avoid danger by burying its head in the sand, as reflected in this quote by American author and philosopher Ayn Rand:
“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality″
This first type of denial is easiest to overcome because when their world comes crashing down, people quickly find themselves looking for answers about what went wrong. There is no longer bliss in remaining ignorant. People who have already been shaken by economic realities caused by misdeeds of the Bush and Obama administrations have already come out of their state of denial. They have moved on to the next phase: Anger.
The second type of denial does not apply to most of us, but rather to people who are in positions of doing things that they may even know are illegal and not right. I can think of a relative who was selling used cars and arranging financing for customers under a program that she knew was fraudulent. Yet she found an way to justify what she was doing in her own mind, saying that people were getting something that they wanted or needed (a car). This was her way of denying that she was actually doing anything wrong.
Finding a way to get people to open their mind and even consider foreign ideas continues to be a frustration for me. Even if they don’t fully believe and adopt the ideas, just considering them would be a step in the right direction. Often I say, “You don’t have to believe this information. Just open your mind and consider it.” But even that is very hard for most people to do for reasons mentioned here. I continue to think that America is headed into some very rough waters, far worse than any of us have seen in our lifetime. We need to prepare ourselves and do everything possible to fight off the worst parts.