Aug 2

Getting rid of normal

“I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

How often have you said this in the past year-and-a-half? I have been incredibly guilty of frequently expressing this during the pandemic. The yearning of returning to how things were before COVID-19 upended our lives was a true wish of mine.

Thing is, what is normal anyway?

As one participant in a recent focus group said to me: “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”

The focus group in question was composed of mothers of children who are medically complex – whether from arthritis, cancer, heart disease or autoimmune disorders. They know all too well the reality of having to shelter in place, avoiding the world for fear of getting sick. I was interviewing them for an upcoming project with our friends at the Children’s Healing Center, the first-of-its-kind year-round recreation center for kids with weakened immune systems and their families.

This simple, but profound statement, really made me think. As I sit writing this blog at one of my favorite coffee shops, which I’m SO grateful to be able to be at right now, I can see all expressions of gender identity, black, white and brown people, fat folks, skinny folks, those differently abled, families, single people, old, young and everyone in between – and that’s just one street corner of Grand Rapids. No one in my sight is “normal” – thank, God.

I’m not one for cancel culture, but in 2021 I’d like to cancel the word normal.

As we work to create a more inclusive, equitable and fair environment, I believe communication professionals have a strong responsibility to influence the narrative – using our powers for good. And that means always learning, growing and adjusting to communicate not only effectively, but inclusively.

Part of this work is identifying words we commonly use and really dissect what message they send and how that message will be received. This is honestly a good rule of thumb in general, but especially in the context of ensuring we embrace those who might be different than us.

We have a major job on our hands: We are tasked with sharing messages that are usually driven by goals and objectives, and having to find a way to look through the eyes of who may respond, react and reply differently than we would, and make it work. It takes putting our own prejudices, biases and baggage behind us to put on a new lens.

I find this must come from not only reading and research, but also to always be listening. The conversations we have with people in our everyday lives can bring the most tremendous learning experiences. Case-in-point above. It’s being able to take many perspectives and weave them together that you will hopefully be able to incrementally change your own perspective. And you’ll be the better communication professional for it.

So, this week, I’m going to start with the word normal. I’m challenging myself not to use it – and when I have the urge to, really dig deep into what I mean by it – and do better. I hope you’ll join me in putting on a new lens in your work – it may surprise you.


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