What do you mean, new normal?
This two-word phrase seems to come up in every TV report, all opinion pieces, and most conversations. You’ll also see and hear variations, like “new abnormal” and even “abnormal new normal.”
After months of this COVID mess, I’d say the new has definitely worn off.
Researching the phrase “new normal,” I found several claims to its origination: after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, during a 2003 financial boom/bust cycle, and following the 2008 recession. The earliest citation, though, was from an article in December 1918, in the aftermath of World War I.
There’s lots of newness, but not much normality. “Normal,” you know, is what’s typical … routine … expected.
During the shutdown, I’ve been working from home. My team and I have created two issues of our magazine without laying eyes on each other except through computer screens. That’s been new for us, but I don’t call it a new normal. We’ll be back in the office in a month or two, and what became routine this spring might be a “remember when” story next year.
Also at home, my family started a small garden. We eat in every night. I wash a lot of dishes. I dig dandelions as soon as they reveal themselves. It’s new, but it doesn’t seem normal. And it’s not what I expected of 2020.
I didn’t read the 1918 article, but any new normal the world settled into back then didn’t last. It can’t. Technologies emerge, inventions appear, attitudes evolve, and disasters strike.
“Normal” is a rolling standard, an ever-changing acceptance of patterns, activities, and beliefs. It’s only natural that we seek firm ground—and take comfort in a predictable future—but it’s an ongoing search. Firm ground is natural, but then earthquakes happen. Pandemics hit. Jobs and livelihoods go away.
So what’s normal now? How do we regain our footing with work and friends and routines when the ground hasn’t settled?
How? We roll with it. We make do with less money and more stress. We cry or rant or zombie out, and we think about better days ahead, because that’s just our normal for now.
But those better days are coming. We’ll stop counting deaths and start moving forward, recalibrating our lives and, maybe, ourselves.
There will be new days, but there won’t be a new normal because normal never lasts for long. As soon as we get used to life, it changes.
So what’s normal is change. And life … is always new.