The Danger of Normalcy Bias

Is Normal Forever?

Have you ever heard of Normalcy Bias?  My interpretation and personal definition is a sense of complacency brought on by a belief that what is "normal" always will be, and it leads to the inability or unwillingness to accept that what is happening might not be "normal" and could, in fact, be dangerous.

In it's more extreme circumstances, it is the feeling that lets parents fail to acknowledge when their children are getting molested by the college football coach.  It is also why people don't go to the doctor until after the cancer has gotten too deep of a hold.  It's why at 8:58 on 9/11/01, people thought, "gee, that's terrible a plane crashed into the World Trade Center... there must have been some horrible malfunction in the steering.  It's why people get a raise and immediately increase their standard of living to match the new paycheck and then go bankrupt a year later when they get laid off.

We got a rude awakening to normalcy bias at the homestead today.

Across the street is an old one-room school house that the area black families sent their children to for about 40 years until desegregation.  Since then, ownership has reverted back to a "community center" group, but it has been in disuse and getting more dilapidated and damaged over the past 10-15 years or so.  During Hurricane Irene, a tree fell and busted a hole in the roof.  For the past three or four years, I have been the unofficial groundskeeper, knocking down the weeds several times a year, and trying to keep an eye on it.  The guys in the community center group (some who went to school there and are the sons and grandsons of the families that first donated the land to the county for the school) have gotten old and are starting die off.  Some of their sons are my age and are trying to reorganize into a non-profit with the goal of raising money and restoring the building.  Folks from the area do a fish fry in the school's yard once a year, and folks that live down the road cut through the school yard walking back from the church around the bend on nice Sundays. That is all normalcy bias #1.

Normalcy bias #2 is that we live out in the country.  The shed is unlocked; the cars are unlocked (I even keep the key in my truck); and the chain link fence around the back yard is unlocked - but about a year ago I bought a set of heavy duty padlocks and left one on each gate in case I ever need to lock up in a hurry.  We hardly ever see a deputy on our road.  That is normalcy bias #2.

Sunday morning, my wife and I were in the kitchen and saw a guy walking across the school yard.  My immediate thought was that it was someone walking back from church.  Today my wife was driving to work and saw a guy in the road just down from the school who did not look familiar.  When she waved at him, he did not wave back.  That is NOT normal for the area.  God bless her, she recognized it wasn't normal and called the sheriff's office.  Long story short, he was a vagrant with family a few miles away and some mental illness, and he had been squatting in the school for about a week.  The deputy locked him up on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant and called me to find out about ownership of the property to get him served with a no trespassing order.  When I got home this evening, I connected the deputy with the community center group to get that ball rolling.

I've locked the cars, removed spare keys, and locked up my gates.  I'm printing up a little flyer to deliver to everyone in the area to let them know so they can take whatever actions they need to do as well.  My normalcy bias has been shattered.

What really gets me is that I spent so much of my life as a cop and being naturally cautious, suspicious, and wary.  Since I left police work and have lived so peacefully for so long, my radar is down.  I need to reboot my brain.  Thankfully, my wake up call is the result of a relatively minor event, and not something that resulted in major losses, damage, or threat.

Check your personal environment.  Do you let rose colored glasses affect your perception?  Do you recognize the abnormal when you see it?

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