Embracing the Not Normal

Yes. You read that correctly, the not normal. Let me explain.

Let’s start by acknowledging there never was a normal. Each of us lives in our own unique set of circumstances and what is normal in one household, community, city, or region differs drastically from another. Add to that the distinctiveness that comes with different eras and ages, races and cultures, and varying levels of access, resources, education and income, and it’s clear that there never was a normal.

That’s what makes it all that much more frustrating when we hear phrases like, “the new normal” to describe life in the wake of a global pandemic.

It reminds me of advice I received from Nita Mosby, one of my many mentors at the City & County of Denver. Nita headed up the department of human resources and I was the director of communications, including internal communications for the department of human service. As we navigated the stormy waters of child protection services, assistance programs and homelessness, we often struggled to process and unpack our department’s challenges. Nita told me, “You have to name it. Identify the issue and put it on the table. Say it out loud. You cannot begin to address issues you have not named.”

This piece of advice rang true and served us well as we tackled a complete overhaul of the culture, practice, processes and reputation of the department – an incredibly successful endeavor. Using her advice, we named each issue and tackled them head on.

Her advice still rings true today as we navigate a strange new world at best, where things feel anything but normal. There’s no shortage of issues to name here.

It feels like everything has shattered, and in the shards of glass big enough to see a reflection, we see the distorted pieces of life as we knew it. Face coverings and masks may be commonplace at the moment, but I don’t think any of us envisions a world where we never see the smile of a stranger or share a laugh with the barista who’s just whipped up our latte.

Are we done shaking hands? Will we never laugh or gasp with people sitting next to us at a packed movie theatre on opening weekend? Or pack into a stadium to watch our favorite band play live? How long we will be confined to visiting restaurants with only members of our own household? I could really use a group happy hour!

No. This cannot be our “new normal.”

So, let’s start to address this issue. What are we willing to give up? Though I spent considerable time teaching my daughters to master the art of a perfect handshake (they receive compliments on this all the time!), I can live without handshakes. I’m okay with less tables in restaurants and keeping a safe distance. I can live with temperature checks and staying home when we are sick.

What I don’t think I can live with is fear. Not just mine, personally, but the culture of fear that permeates the world today. The feeling that you can’t clear your throat in public without people wondering if you have a minor cough or a deadly virus. The confusion surrounding wearing masks and the fear of not wearing one in public as socially taboo, while at the same time fearing they may be making matters worse. And most significant, the overwhelming fear that we might never again enjoy life the same way we did before.

Just by naming these fears, we challenge them, we change them. That is the power of communication. By articulating the difference of what we do not want vs. the proactive focus on what we do, we create meaningful dialogue and help bring the outcomes we want most to fruition.

So instead of accepting the new normal, I am naming the not normal in all of this. We are not there yet. But we will get there.

Revekka Balancier

VP, Creative Strategy

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