When my husband, Paul, and I, Massachusetts natives, moved to Maine in 1986, we noticed that people drove more courteously here. Now, it might be said that drivers anywhere are better behaved than those notorious Bay State rascals. However, we’d been living in Rhode Island for a few years by then, and hadn’t noticed a discernible difference.

Over time, Mainers have grown as reckless as their neighbors to the south. It was a gradual process, but eventually, like doomed lobsters, we realized the water was getting hotter.

Now I barely remember the days, so long ago, when the driver behind you didn’t honk if you were slow to get going when the light turned green. It’s a hazy memory, like when Ofglen in the television version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” passes a shop selling puritanical clothing and recalls it once served fantastic ice cream.

It’s the new normal.

I hate that phrase. It suggests that we should give up and accept that an unfortunate situation is here to stay. That we are powerless to change things.

This attitude is neither healthy nor safe. And yet, I see it everywhere. We are in danger of becoming numb to climate change, mass shootings and our president’s inappropriate behavior. The news can be overwhelming, but if we give up, things are just going to get worse.

There’s a phenomenon known as “climate change fatigue.” Climate change is a huge issue, and we can’t seem to make a difference as individuals. I might have felt smug about my contributions to environmental protection a decade ago; I drove my hybrid car and brought my own bags to the supermarket. But so what? The glaciers are still melting.

But if I throw my hands in the air and and say, “What’s the point?” I become part of the problem. I’ll do what I can. Support candidates who want us to be part of the Paris Agreement on climate. Write about the issue. Continue to pay attention, no matter how depressed I get.

Climate change seems like a slow death. News of mass shootings is a staccato drumbeat that makes my head ache. Of course we are in danger of becoming numb to them, of not caring anymore. They seem to happen every week. How much can we take?

As an educator, there’s no way I can turn my back on this issue. I don’t want my students to live in fear. Fortunately, I have hope that this horrific trend can be stopped, or at least slowed. I think we can change the culture of our country. We can do it with moderate gun control. Experts are learning more about how to identify possible shooters. And after three years of President Trump leading us in the wrong direction, toward hate, I am convinced that, with new leadership, we can swing all the way around toward love.

I am disturbed and disheartened when I hear excuses for Trump’s behavior. There are times when what is right and what is wrong are clear and undeniable.

It is wrong for a president to try to get a foreign government to interfere with an American election. Wrong for a president to tweet disparagingly about a State Department employee as she is testifying before Congress. Wrong for a president to tell members of Congress, to “go back” to where they came from. It is wrong for a president to allude to white nationalists as “very fine people.”

Another new normal. We have to live with it, because, well, we have to get on with our lives. I would love to tune the president out. Completely. But I can’t. I have to let myself get upset. I have to keep saying, “This is not OK.”

I can’t give up and go numb. I have to do my part to help others keep thinking, feeling and responding. Even if I don’t agree with them.

I, and my colleagues in public education, work daily to encourage young people to hone their critical thinking skills. They will make their own decisions and form their own opinions which, again, I may not agree with. That’s as it should be. I just don’t want them to be indifferent about their world.

The other day I was doing a library lesson I call “Research 101” with sophomores. Afterwards, I found a handout that a student had left behind. The first question on the sheet asked students to identify the “essential question” of their project. He had written: “Why is Trump being tried at impeachment?”

Wow. I’d used World War II topics as examples, but this student was thinking for himself. I took it as a message from the universe, and smiled. Hope is a beautiful thing.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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