The Participation Blog


What is Normal?

A constantly changing normal is the new normal. When you think about it, you realize that time changes all of us and makes the previously odd or out of place common and more acceptable. Consider fashion, music, or attitudes about right, wrong, fairness or honesty. Change happens, and people and their values and priorities tend to shift and evolve over time. Powerless people have pushed back on the powerful and slowly changed the norms in how we’re willing to treat each other. Whether the new normal is necessarily good or bad depends on your perspective, obviously, but now, we’re watching a particularly important evolution take place before our very eyes.

What is Truth?

In past times, being caught in an obvious lie was usually a death knell to credibility and social acceptance. But, as Rudy Guliani pointed out, “truth isn’t truth” anymore.

I’m not suggesting that truth isn’t elusive; in this complex time it absolutely can be. Some truths are a judgement call and not always black and white. There’s always been an argument that political figures play fast and loose with the truth, spinning and changing the context of quotes, facts and issues to promote their positions, declare truths and demonize the opponents. But we’re in new territory here … this is different.

Some truths are provable and some are self-evident, unless you side with Guliani. General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. armed forces in Viet Nam, once famously, said, “Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.” Now, censorship, lies, B.S., obfuscation, fakes, cons, gaslighting, sanitizing, counterfeits, deception, crapola, astroturfing, half-truths, disinformation, propaganda, manipulation or whatever other word, euphemism or description of not-the-truth you’d care to consider is becoming … normal. It also seems to be becoming acceptable — just the result of living in this day and age in America, so although it may not be great, ‘it just is what it is.’ We expect — and accept — that people will game the system; we’re immune to it, and it’s now a legacy to our kids.

What does this mean to those of us in P2?

The work that we do has to start with some trust of what’s true and what’s not. We’ll disagree on priorities and positions, but we have to be able to at least come together on what’s provable. Joint fact finding helps when you’re trying to co-produce solutions, and that requires an objective gathering of information and faith in the facts. When we lose that, we’ve got nothing.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, the ninth of those quaint ten commandments, is a virtuous imperative addressed in some fundamental way by every significant faith on Earth. I suppose you could argue that we consistently push the boundaries of many of the ten, but I don’t know that modern history has seen this kind of normalization in the dismissing of a core human moral value.

The only question is: will we really let that stand?

John Godec