The Death of Normalcy: Hugh Herr’s Mission

Photo above: Hugh Herr

An experience in our life that can appear at first to be “tragic” or “negative” can often be the impetus that leads us to transformation and perhaps even down a path that changes the world and improves the lives of millions.

Such is the case of MIT Professor and double amputee Hugh Herr, whose story captivated me when i saw it recently featured on a CNN Medical/Innovation segment.

An avid adventurer and mountain climber, Hugh Herr had a “tragic accident” while in his twenties on a mountain climbing adventure.

During what was supposed to be a one day climb, he got caught in a blizzard and when the rescue party reached him 4 days later, frostbite cost him the loss of both his legs.

Hugh Herr went on to create “Bionics,” an interplay of science and design that has revolutionized the field of prosthetics. Bionics are replacements for “broken body parts” using the latest generation of robotics that not only seamlessly integrate with the body, but outperforms the natural body part.

Professor Herr believes that the “death of normalcy” includes ridding the world of “disability” for we no longer look upon a person as “disabled” with technological advances allowing the broken body part to be replaced or augmented with superior body parts.

I believe that one of the reasons I was so drawn to this story is the fact that I had an older brother who was born seriously physically “disabled.” His “disability” was so severe he grew up in a special facility with other “seriously disabled” children.

Visiting him when I was a child forced me at a very early age to simultaneously feel tremendous gratitude that I simply had a “normally” functioning body and a loving home to grow up in, while getting a powerful lesson in how our culture’s “labels” and “judgements” have such profound implications we too rarely examine.

When I would see people make fun of, or whisper about a person who was physically or intellectually “disabled,” it was like a kick in the gut, for that could be my brother, who I knew had a beautiful mind and spirit.

We have come a long way since the 1950’s when my brother was born and our culture “hid away” children who were born this way.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a great hero of mine, not for creating games for those with intellectual “disabilities”, but for showing the world how truly “able” and lovable these human beings are.

Yet I know we still have far to go in challenging so many of our culturally held judgements on what is “beautiful” — on race, religion, sexual preference, and even on what is good and what is bad — and so many other ways we exhibit hate, ignorance or fear.

We need to move beyond these limiting definitions and views of ourselves and others. The Death of Normalcy asks us to constantly reexamine all our values and judgements, and recognize that in the end our only limitations are the boundaries of our collective imagination.

If The Death of Normalcy leads to a more loving, accepting, interconnected and limitless world, then I say, R.I.P. Normalcy!

God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.

About the Author

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Bonnie Reiss is CEO of BMR Consulting Group. Bonnie has a diverse backround in finance, law, media and running National non profit organizations. Bonnie served as Senior Advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger as California Secretary of Education and is on the University of California Board of Regents.

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