Let’s Clarify Our Terms,
Language is something that distinguishes humans from the rest of the beasts of the world. Not that “lesser” creatures don’t have their own communication systems (we know all about dolphins and whales, for example) but we’ve yet to find another species that puts their “language” into writing. That said, I find that this pandemic situation has introduced some interesting turns of language. Most of us are pretty aware of the language of propaganda that the President and Fox News (and the Democrats, in their own way) put out there. And, if we are critical viewers and listeners, we can interpret broadcast news, with its own particular vernacular, jargon, and “coded” speech. But there are a few phrases which we’re hearing with regularity these days that bear more careful scrutiny than they are receiving.
Since April 15th we’ve been hearing a lot about the “Stimulus” checks that are being sent out (with Trump’s name on the “Memo” line!) --- or being direct deposited in every eligible citizen’s account. The problem, of course, is that this is NOT “stimulus” money --- it is RELIEF funding! With our economy shut down and over 20 Million people out of work, there is nothing to “stimulate.” No, this “free money” from the government is a RELIEF package, designed to help citizens soldier through this particularly difficult historic period. There’s no doubt it makes everyone feel better thinking of their governmental gift as some kind of “stimulus” but the fact of the matter is it is all for relief. But the “relief/stimulus” word game is not nearly as disconcerting as the phrase I’m hearing on an almost a daily basis: “the new normal.”
This phrase is being used with greater and greater frequency here in the Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) area: “The new normal is going to be . . . “ or “This might be part of the new normal . . . “ We’re hearing it on the news morning, noon, and night. But what, exactly, does this really mean? According to the (online) Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Normal” is:
1 a: conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern . For example,
normal working hours . . .
He had a normal childhood.
the effect of normal aging . . .
b: according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle
What I am trying to figure out is what people mean by the new normal? How can we know what “normal” is until it becomes a “type, standard, or regular pattern?” I think back to the early 1980’s, when I first got cable tv. Nobody said that it was a “new normal,” though it surely became such (until streaming arrived). What we’re experiencing now, though, is quite different --- and what, exactly, will this “new normal” actually be?
Does it mean we will become an entire nation of Adrian Monk’s --- the OCD germophobic television detective played by Tony Shaloub in the early 21st century who compulsively used Wet Ones Wipes? Will we all be wearing surgical gloves and masks all the time? Does it mean there will be NO more hand-shakes? High-fives? Hugs? Cheek-kisses? Will “Stadium Seating” in the “new normal” mean every-third (or fourth)- seat at Yankee Stadium? Or will there simply be no more attendance, aside from those select few who buy “luxury” boxes? What of March Madness, Grand Slam Tennis, World Cup Soccer? What will all these events look like in the “new normal?” And what of Broadway and theater, in general? Only five people per row, staggered throughout the venue? Wherefore Burning Man and rock concerts? How do we reconstruct that part of our world that has to do with people congregating in this “new normal?” Will we see “hand washing stations” out in public streets?
It seems to me that what we have, for so long, considered “normal” has irrevocably changed. This pandemic has re-shuffled the deck. What are restaurants and movie theaters going to be like once we can actually go out in public again? This pandemic is like a tsunami, a vast wave that has crashed across the World and, once it subsides, everything is devastated in its wake. There won’t be a need to physically rebuild structures but what about small businesses, what about the 22-plus million unemployed citizens? What’s the path ahead in the “new normal?” I would contend that it will not be “normal” at all --- that we will be changing a tire on a car going 60 miles an hour and it will make our heads spin at times.
And this brings us to one more word I’d like to examine: Liberate. Our esteemed President has tweeted out that certain States in our Union need to be “liberated.” As the Blatherer-in-Chief has danced around his own responsibility, changing his position almost daily, he issued a directive that States must experience two weeks of coronavirus cases declining before “re-opening” --- but then, in classic Trump fashion, contradicted himself and badgered particular Governors to “open” their States to get the economy running again. This, despite warnings from the entire medical community that re-opening too soon --- particularly without testing, (which Trump has “hot-potatoed” throughout this crisis) --- would put thousands in danger of contracting the virus and, potentially, dying. Yet our “President” believes States need to be “Liberated” to get the economy going again. He did say, of course, the “cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease” (or some such stupidity) demonstrating his callous disregard for human life and a total lack of human empathy.
We need to be vigilant not only about staying home, washing our hands, and wearing protective masks, but also regarding how we interpret the information we are receiving. Pay attention to the language being used and examine it critically (with “critical” not meaning “negative” but employing the Merriam-Webster definition: “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation.”) We all need to take care of ourselves physically --- through social distancing, etc. --- but we should also try to stay healthy regarding our mental state and not let distracting (and inexact) language send us into downward spirals. Be vigilant, be judicious, be critical (in the best possible ways) while you stay home, wash your hands and socially distance.