Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine. ~Whoopi Goldberg
When something feels “right” to us personally, we tend to equate that perspective with “normal.” Or, when something has just been that way for a very long time, we consider that to be “normal.”
Yesterday I visited a new church. I’m very curious to see how the church, broadly speaking, embarks on this season of emerging from pandemic restrictions on the heels of a very turbulent 2020. I hope to visit a number of churches in the coming weeks. It’s my own micro research study through personal observation.
Last Sunday, it was just one word that caught my attention, and I couldn’t let it go. The pastor continued with his sermon, but my mind just ruminated on that one word – “normal.” He was reading a chapter in Nehemiah that listed one Hebrew name after another documenting how they each contributed to rebuild their city. Then amidst all of the many Hebrew names was “Benjamin.” That’s when the pastor stopped and commented how it was nice to finally have a “normal” name.
In the pastor’s defense, he was reading many names that were not part of his first language so I’m assuming it took effort and concentration. A name he could easily pronounce without thinking about it likely felt like a relief. But then I kept thinking, wouldn’t “Benjamin” actually be the “abnormal” name in the list of Hebrew names? The reason the pastor considered Benjamin “normal” was that it was personally relatable.
This got me thinking about “normal.” How easily we toss out that word and the various meanings we attach to it.
The following morning I read this headline: “Stop Using the Language of ‘Normal’ for Face-to-Face Academic Work.” Again, this idea of “normal” was being used to describe our collective recalibration following the many months of restrictions. This same article included the following statement, “…in recognition that ‘normal’ means different things for different people, let us strive to listen to what many of our colleagues are telling us…”
What’s all this have to do with leadership and bold grace? I think that as we move out of restrictions that leaders should be careful not to focus so heavily on “returning to normal.” Instead, boldly extend grace to others and create opportunity for a new chapter that might not look just like the last chapter. (That’s a boring book none of us would want to read anyway.) That leaders take this moment in time to question their assumptions about what is “normal,” and there are lots of assumptions!
Going back to my church experiment. My hypothesis is churches that try to quickly return to “normal” will be those churches that either stagnate or decline in attendance. And those that embrace both what they have learned and new skills they have honed from 2020 will grow and maybe even thrive. I also believe the same will be true for organizations in general.
The first step in this process is to start catching ourselves using the word “normal” and examine what assumptions we are making that caused us to use that word. Consider the words of philosopher, Michel Foucault: “There are forms of oppression and domination which become invisible – the new normal.” Let’s do better than “normal” and lead with bold grace.