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Friday, May 30, 2014

Your Marriage and Nasa, Pt. 3 - Normalization of Deviance

On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia began its re-entry from orbit, for landing at the kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As we all know, it never arrived, breaking up over Texas and Louisiana, killing all seven crew members.

Columbia was launched on January 16, and 80 seconds into the flight a suitcase-sized piece of foam used for aerodynamic 'shaping' broke free from the external fuel tank and hit the left wing of the Orbiter. Speed was about Mach 2.47.

NASA knew what had happened; indeed, what they had come to call "foam shedding" had happened on other flights, with no ill effect. So the decision was taken - assume nothing is wrong.

Diane Vaughn, a sociologist, calls this "the normalization of deviance". Things go wrong, but hey, it's normal.

Only this time it wasn't normal, and Columbia had a hole in her left wing. Hot gases generated by atmospheric during re-entry entered the hole, and caused the wing to fail.

The accident was preventable. Foam shedding was a known phenomenon, and was accepted. it shouldn't have been, because a piece of insulating foam moving at about 2500 feet per second (as fast as a 30-caliber rifle bullet) carried a lot of kinetic energy. Click here to see how much.

Once the shuttle was off the ground, the assumption was that nothing could be done. Not true; another Shuttle could have been launched as a rescue mission. It would have been risky, but Columbia could have been evacuated and abandoned in orbit.

These two assumptions...the normalization of deviance and what's the use?..doomed seven people to a terrifying ride to a fiery end.

We make these assumptions in our marriages, too...to our peril.

It's not as spectacular as a Space Shuttle coming apart, but it';s destructive nonetheless.

How much 'stuff' have you just decided to live with? One of the most common is public disrespect from a spouse (usually a wife is dissed by her husband). He'll make jokes at her expense, and exaggerate her 'failings' - overspending, calls to Mom, and so on - for comic effect.

When called to account, his stock answer will be "hey, lighten up, where's your sense of humor, I was joking!"

In other words, shift blame Blame the victim.

And a lot of women shrug, and say, well, that's just him.

And their trust in their spouse is eroded. The husband who's supposed to be a leader and protector has become an abuser, who might casually damage a woman's self-worth...on a whim.

Normalization of deviance.

And it won't change

That's the assumption, that nothing can be done. A disrespectful husband will always be disrespectful.

A wandering eye can't be cured (though Jesus did have a singular and rather drastic suggestion, that might hve appealed to Lorena Bobbitt.).

"He just needs 'guy time', so I'll pick up the slack with the family."

What's the use? There's another way of expressing it - it's giving the person in the wrong a free pass.

Abrogating accountability.

When we accept something wrong in our marriages as normal, and shy away from demanding accountability for our spouse's actions, we sow the seeds for damage...or destruction.

Most 'bad behaviors' start small...a husband (usually) will test the waters to see what he can get away with. And when he gets away with something small, he'll try for something bigger.

The cure for this is watchfulness. Not an atmosphere of mistrust, but a clear knowledge of the boundaries that have been agreed upon, both explicitly and implicitly, to protect your marriage. When those boundaries are probed, a caution light should come on. When they're violated, it's time for a serious talk, preferably involving a counselor.

Accountability starts at home, but it doesn't end there. We need accountability partners, people of the same gender who share our values and who are confident enough of our continued friendship top tell us when we're wrong.

We need to be accountable to our spouses, but we need to beyond the hearth-fire to a cool, disciplined intelect that will step back and potentially say..."Dude, what you're doing...it SUCKS."

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