Why I Hate the Term “New Normal”

by: Jack Johnson, Destinations International

Around the corner from my house is the Reese Funeral Home. A couple of years ago, shortly after I moved to Alexandria, Virginia USA, the owners renovated the building and I am sure it was a factor that has helped lead to a successful expansion of their client base. It was also appreciated by us neighbors. Most recently, likely because of their increasing client base, they added four new vehicles including a new lead car with a siren, that while I understand the need for it given the busy corner the home is near, I am not a big fan of. They also added a new hearse and two new limos for the family of the deceased – all four matching Cadillac vehicles. They create an impressive procession whenever in use.

The Reese Funeral Home is a successful, Black-owned, neighborhood business in a time when you need as many of those as possible. More importantly, they are good neighbors and assets to the community. But these days, it may be most important that over the last few months, they have become an almost daily reminder, sometimes twice a day reminder, that however we may describe the time we are living in, it cannot be described as a “new normal.”

In a matter of months, over 500,000 deaths worldwide. Most likely more. Over 125,000 deaths in the United States alone with another 8,500 just north in Canada. This is not normal.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “normal” can be used as a noun or adjective and means conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.  As in normal working hours, they had a normal childhood or the effect of normal aging. Normal is usual, it is average, it is typical, it is predictable. What we are going through today is not normal.

A side note: as a gay man I love pointing out to the English-language-challenged folks who said that homosexuality is not normal – that they are incorrect because there has always been a portion of the population that was gay, which means that it is usual and predictable, which means being gay is normal. Being gay is normal. What we are going through today is not normal.

There are many words that can be used to describe what we are living through. Crisis. Disaster. Catastrophe. Emergency. Calamity. Or just a huge predicament. But not normal.

Perhaps something more descriptive. Epidemic. Pandemic. Plague. Outbreak. Or my favorite, a massive virulent disease. But not normal.

The problem with using the word normal is that we change something that requires a response, something that requires sacrifice, something that requires a strategy to defeat, something that requires us to marshal our assets, something that requires vigilance, something that requires uniting, something that requires coordination, and something that requires action by every person in the world – no matter how remote they may be – and we change it into just another part of our day. Something we don’t give much thought because it is normal.

What we are going through today is not just another part of the day. This is not normal.

There has been a rush to return to a “new normal”. There has been a rush to go back to things as they were before – just with some adaptations, often voluntary. To open things up because we flattened the curve instead of bending the curve down to small numbers. Because we have had some great victories, not because we have won the war. There is a desire to treat this year and the next one, two or three years as we have the years before – just with some adaptations, again, often voluntary. A desire to go back to what we know how to do – to market our destinations, to sell our destinations– just with some adaptations. That would be a mistake.

The Great Interruption

What we are going through today is a great interruption. It is one of the great challenges of our life.  It is a test of our humanity. It is a call to marshal all the experience and all the talents we can apply. Because the time we are in requires new ideas and new approaches and a great deal of caution. It requires identifying what is essential in what we do, it requires doing it with less resources and it requires a creative approach. It requires that we use the people in our community. It requires that we help the people in our community. And it requires that we protect the people in our community.

Which is why this time of great interruption is not any kind of “new normal” but instead is the anything but normal time before the next normal.

About the Author

Jack Johnson
Chief Advocacy Officer
Destinations International
As Chief Advocacy Officer, Jack manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities. Currently, his work around positioning destination organizations as a shared value in each of their communities and speaking with a new lexicon based on the emotion driven by those values has made him one of the leading voices of the travel industry.