Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Does an Unusual Practice Become a Norm?

About a year ago, the author wrote about how few people here in Iringa carry umbrellas and do not mind being in the rain.  It was just another when the author was taking a motorcycle taxi across town when the rains started to fall heavily.  The author did have an umbrella in his hand, but the motorcycle was going way too fast for it to be opened.  Even as the drizzles turned into downpours, the author did not even attempt to get the motorcycle driver to slow down or stop. As his clothes grew wetter from the rains, he realized that he stopped minding being in the rains...in a way more Tanzanian, maybe.

Not that he enjoys having his shirts and pants soaked in rainwater.  The feelings of spending the whole day in wet fabric obviously is not a pleasant one.  But somehow, after many experiences of being caught in the rains expectedly out in the middle of nowhere, the idea of being soaked in the rains have become a norm, uncomfortable but acceptable, undesirable but normal.  He is no longer bothered by getting wet, and simply get on with what needs to be done while being wet.  Gone are the feelings of urgent need to go home and slip into something dry and warm.

It is a mentality that echoes the post-Ivy League education disappointment.  One would feel entitled to greatness, along with all its supposed luxuries, comforts, riches, and resources, but instead one gradually comes to the realization that all of the supposed entitlements are bare mirages that stem only from empty promises and even emptier expectations.  Even when working hard and doing everything correctly and diligently, there is only so much that one can get, and many others, even as basic as dry and comforting clothing, are not guaranteed.

Over time, one simply becomes okay with that fact.  One acknowledges that one will continue to face disappointments, in career advancements, academic achievements, the standard of living, or just life in general.  And one began to think that is okay, and being disappointed is more normal than not being disappointed.  One simply begins to accept and appreciate the disappointments, making them the part of daily life, and enjoying them to the best of one's tolerance.  Perhaps one even learn to enjoy them, love them, in ways one never thought it would have been possible or acceptable.

Being stuck in the downpours on the back of a speeding motorcycle is one of such scenarios.  If one is certain to get soaking wet, one might as well enjoy this deep connection with nature.  If one has no time to go home and change, one might as well learn to love the feeling of wet fabric touching the skins.  As ludicrous as this mentality sounds, with repeated experiences of the same, the feeling of dismay simply goes away, leaving behind only a sense of serendipity that tells one that, well, the situation is actually not as bad as one would have imagined.

Gone is the sense of anger that things are not going according to plan.  Gone are the feelings that one deserves better.  Gone are the accusations of how the situation is not nearly as optimal as it ought to be.  The only feeling left is solemn acceptance of the reality, without any attempts to judge whether it is good or bad.  One stops comparing the current situation with something or somewhere else.  Being soaked in the rain just means being soaked in the rain; there is no need to think about what is it like to be dry or what can one do to not be soaked more.

The readers of this blog would have been appalled by its many open and blatant criticisms of African life, and perhaps thought of how the locals can tolerate such abysmal conditions without making concrete efforts to change the status quo.  The thing is, once one is used to the reality, one no longer thinks of it as abysmal, or indeed, negative in any way.  It is simply the reality, without any connotations attached to it.  To change it is to introduce the unfamiliar, a risky proposition that have its own set of costs.  Rather face that uncertainty, why not just accept the current reality as it is?

Th author certainly felt that way as he faced the rains on the back of the motorcycle.  He was going to get wet anyways even if the motorcycle immediately sought out a covered location to wait out the rains.  It was simply matter of different degrees in wetness.  So if the author was going to get wet, why not just get wet, without thinking about how wet?  If wet is an acceptable condition, then does it really matter to what magnitude that wetness exists?  If so, why bother even making the efforts to be less wet?  Perhaps this is the line of logic that help people form mediocre norms.  

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