How often do we do that – let the bad become normal – by allowing letting our standards slide just one, just for a short time, until we lose sight of what we once valued?
One of the things said by Dr. Temple Grandin when we saw her speak was that we must stop the bad from becoming normal. It really struck me and has stayed on my mind ever since.
Dr. Grandin, of course, was speaking about livestock. More specifically, she was discussing standards of care on farms.
Unless, she said, we have clear and measurable standards, it is very easy for the bad to become normal.
And not only must we have those standards, but we must track them and be held accountable for them.
Her examples included things like the number of times handlers must use electric prods on cattle, or the number of times livestock slip and fall during transport.
All of these things must be tracked and measured.
People might say that these things are sometimes inevitable. Yet, they must still be tracked and measured, with constant small checks and adjustments, to prevent the bad from crossing the line to being accepted as normal.
When the Naugler family made news, I continued to think about Dr. Grandin’s words. My mind often works in a strange and holistic way, and every time I thought about the Nauglers and Dr. Grandin’s words, “caged chickens” would hitch a ride.
Before you think I’m crazy, keep reading.
For those of you who have not read about this, Nicole and Joe Naugler are a family living in Kentucky. A few years ago, Child Protective Services took their ten children into custody and it quickly hit social media.
For the record, I know only what is publicly available online, and this is not intended as support or condemnation for the family. No one outside of those directly involved knows all of the facts and I will not jump to conclusions about what I don’t know.
And there was a happy ending – they got all their children back after a few months, improved their lives, and all was well. They remain an excellent example of a good family that allowed necessary evils to turn into their new normal – until they were forced to take a step back, re-examine, realize what had gone wrong, and fix it.
There are lessons in this for all of us because “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is a universal statement!
Although it was originally portrayed as an attack on them for living off-grid, or an attack on them as a homeschooling family, neither were true. It quickly became clear that the problem was their living conditions.
CPS, family court, and many people who saw the pictures posted by the parents, agreed that the home was unsafe for the children. The property was full of garbage and broken glass, the unheated shack was barely large enough for two people, let alone twelve, the firepit area and large pond were unfenced, and much more.
It is easy to dismiss them and say that they are unfit parents, and as with all cases like this, many have come out to say just that.
However, a bit of time spent reading their old blog and Facebook posts paints a different picture, and a disturbing timeline develops. What happened to them could happen to any of us.
In 2013, the family was living in a small, pleasant pre-fab home. Joe Naugler was working and Nicole was operating a dog grooming business. Nicole wrote at the time that rustic off-grid living requires the right type of home and that she was looking forward to building a proper cabin. She wrote about the difference between giving charity and enabling freeloaders. They were doing at least moderately well and had big dreams. I can relate in so many ways!
At some point, though, Joe Naugler lost his job, the pre-fab home disappeared, they built a temporary shack to live in until they could build a better home, and … in less than three years, conditions degenerated to the point that CPS stepped in and the court removed the children from the parents’ custody because their living arrangement was deemed dangerous and insufficient.
Agree or disagree with some of their choices, all of us should agree that it is a terrible, heart-wrenching situation for the entire family.
And it’s terrifying to see how quickly the situation became so bad.
Why? Because it can happen to any of us.
The phrase “There but for the Grace of God go I” comes to mind and, although it’s possible to see where they may have caused some of their own problems, it is difficult for me to feel very judgmental toward them.
Few of us can honestly say that our problems have come entirely from the actions of others and not at least partially from our own poor decisions – and often these are little decisions, things that really don’t seem to matter at the time.
When we let the bad become normal, all of us can fall into the trap of allowing something “just this time” until it become habit. We accept the “necessary evil” and grow accustomed to it.
Bit by bit, one small allowance that something is not a big deal, one little justification or reluctant acceptance at a time, and we suddenly find ourselves wondering how we ever got in the present situation.
When I let friends and family know that I had farm fresh eggs for sale, I received lots of messages that people wanted to get “real eggs, not those pale ones from caged chickens”.
This is a case where many of us know the difference, want the good, and still accept the bad – because it’s easier and more convenient. Even more people, though, don’t even know that an egg yolk should be orange.
Now that we have our own chickens, I’ve learned that nothing really “tastes like chicken” except chicken. When a chicken has a chance to move around and actually live a “chicken life”, the meat is rich and flavourful and a small amount satisfies. When did we let the bad – pale, insipid, tasteless meat from fast-growing, caged chickens – become the norm?
Most people today have no idea what chicken or eggs are supposed to taste and look like. Isn’t that terrible?
And we can say the same about pork, beef and produce, too. Many of my readers likely enjoy fresh beans, peas and tomatoes from the garden, but for the majority, tasteless tomatoes are the norm. Bit by bit, people have accepted bland, out-of-season food.
I would love to say that it stops there.
I recently read that people are turning away from a television show because of the way it portrayed a main character’s rape. The show, they said, had crossed a line. From all I’ve read, though, the line was crossed at the first episode – and yet, it has continued to be a very popular series. (I have never watched it since we don’t have television) However, considering the popularity of a poorly written pornography trilogy, it seems that many people have let the bad become normal in their entertainment.
The issue is that this bad is now the new normal in so very many areas.
In our homes, in our relationships, in our faith and on our farms, we often fall into the dangerous trap of losing sight of our standards – just once, just for a little bit, just until we get through this hump – until we have created a new normal that we would never have accepted if it had happened suddenly.
That is, of course, why we have standards and tracking, why we have rules that sometimes feel stupid or restrictive, and why we must always keep a watchful eye on our own lives.
Let’s refuse to let the bad become normal, and when it does, let’s reclaim the good.
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