Going to Extremes Is Not Normal

Extremes! Are Not Normal!

Whenever I’m working with, or speaking with, someone of a different generation — whether it’s Millennial, Gen Z, Gen X — one expression they’ll never hear me say is “When I was your age …”

I honor the past, where appropriate. But I don’t worship it. And I definitely don’t live in it. There’s only one direction I like to move. It’s not backward or sideways. For me, forward is the only way to go. It’s the only way to grow. I live by the unshakeable belief that The Best Is Yet to Come.

That’s why I birthed the generation-splicing lifestyle of Millennial Baby BoomerR (Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer, ForbesBooks).

My ethos is to encourage everyone to get rid of the outdated, unproductive notion of growing old. Stick with simply growing, period, and you’ll never know old.

Not getting stuck in the past, and not getting hung up on the way things were once upon a time, doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (and worried about) how some things are changing.

I’m fascinated by change. Others of my generation trip themselves up by reflexively equating the past with “better.” The past is different, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better.

 

MAKE IT BETTER

Can we learn from the past? Yes! We can learn from our past mistakes as well as our past successes. What’s most important is that we learn how to make the present and the future better.

There is no shortage of crises to contend with in today’s complicated world. The critical question of our time that encompasses all others is how are we going to cope with the extreme conditions and extreme positions that are so prevalent, we are in serious danger of not treating them as extreme, but as normal.

We need to stem the polarization pulling us apart and find ways to reunite. We don’t have to always agree, but we can learn to be a more civil and open-minded about how we disagree.

Is the disappearance of a tolerable middle ground — in weather, politics, public health, education, business — inevitable, or is there something we can do to maintain decency, including the decent quality of life that we don’t want to lose.

Always being attacked, or on the attack, literally can cause mental health issues.

For starters, what’s with the weather? Wildfires of hellish magnitude continue unabated in the western U.S. Flood waters of biblical proportions deluge entire communities and drown adults and children alike in the northeastern U.S.

 

UNNATURAL DISASTERS

The kind of extreme natural disasters that not long ago were considered mostly unnatural suddenly are seeming all too natural.

What are we going to do about it? Is there anything we can do about it? Who is taking action to reverse the tide?

Science may not always have the right answers, but scientists have expertise that the rest of us don’t have, so their opinions at least should be respected, not dismissed out of hand. Respectful listening is in danger of becoming obsolete.

Nowhere is the outbreak of extremism more toxic and discouraging than in our politics.

The inflection point came on Jan. 6, 2021, when our fellow citizens (not illegal immigrants or foreign terrorists) rampaged the seat of our federal government.

Despite explicit videos showing what took place inside the U.S. Capitol, with deadly consequences for several people, including police, the reaction by members of Congress stuck to party lines. One side condemned it. The other side condoned it. That’s when you had to wonder, “Is nothing sacred anymore, not even the truth we witness with our own eyes?”

 

ACROSS THE AISLE

That divisiveness epitomizes how different groups have different standards for acceptable forms of behavior. One side of the aisle saw it as criminal behavior, while the other side deemed it permissible behavior.

Michelle Gelfand, a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at Stanford University, told Behavioral Scientist magazine that, in any culture, it’s to be expected that there will be conflicting opinions about how to deal with behavior that is deemed not normal.

Gelfand warns that “the cultures that get too extreme in either direction [i.e., too strict or too permissive] start to become dysfunctional.” And that describes all too well where we live at the moment: in the not-so-great state of Dysfunction.

Consider that there are young children entering their third year of grade school — starting in spring 2020, and continuing into fall 2020 and now fall 2021 — who have every reason to assume that wearing a mask in class is nothing unusual. It’s normal to them.

There are bitter battles breaking out in school districts all over the country between parents skeptical of masks and the educators who are mandating students wear mask because the administrators are responsible for keeping students safe during the school day. How can those two extreme points of view be bridged so everyone walks away satisfied?

 

MASKING UP

Among people of all ages, there’s no telling how long it will remain prudent to continue masking up in appropriate places.

The latest data shows that states with the lowest vaccination rates have the highest infection rates. Those are two extremes that actually make sense. Another fact of extreme interest is what the country’s most educated and least educated have in common — they both are the most opposed to being vaccinated.

Even in the business world, a form of extremism has taken hold, with employees not wanting to give up their WFH (work from home) lifestyle to resume their WFO (work from office) normal routine. Until now, there never was a choice.

True, some companies have forestalled their plans to bring staff back to offices. At other companies, though, where management wants to see their payroll in the flesh right now, it was unthinkable as recently as a couple of years ago that employees would have the nerve to tell a boss they don’t want to come back to the office. Unless it was for extenuating reasons, like a medical condition, that would have been an instantly fireable offense. And it remains to be seen if that recourse for some employers still might be used.

 

PRE-EXTREME DAYS

So, let’s stop and ask ourselves, How did we get here? More crucial is to figure out how do we get back to the pre-extreme days. We weren’t always like this.

Specifically, I’m thinking of 20 years ago, in the aftermath of a morning we’ll never forget.

Take a moment to recall the extraordinary final act of courage and bonding exhibited by the heroic passengers on Flight 93 who forced the hijackers to crash into an empty Pennsylvania field instead of smashing the plane into a government building.

The Flight 93 passengers swore to each other and to their countrymen that they would not go to their inevitable deaths without first preventing many more deaths. That awesome act alone provides more than enough inspiration for the rest of us to pull together to end the hate and begin a long overdue healing process.

As he spoke at the Flight 93 memorial service in Shanksville, Pa., this past Sept. 11, former President George W. Bush sounded a cautionary note we all should take to heart: “When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” he said.

 

THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

“A malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.”

No one is claiming it’s easy to shed the animosity that lurks everywhere we turn these days. No one is saying it can happen overnight.

It starts with the right attitude.

First, there must be a willingness to make amends. Second, there must be action taken to not be so quick to condemn each other. As President Bush suggested, disagreement doesn’t need to lead to disunity.

As vividly as we remember the tragedy of 9/11, a different kind of tragedy today is how we forget, after 20 years, what that numbing experience taught us about our amazing capacity for compassion. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to revive that pride in our resilience.

If there’s anything we can learn from the past, how we all found common ground to come together and care for each other after 9/11 is a timeless object lesson for all of humanity.

Are you with me?

I’m with you.

Let’s roll.

Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer