Radnorite’s Word of the Year 2021: Normal

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Photo from iStock

Maryam Naser

Nor·mal (nȯr-məl) adj.:  conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern, characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine; according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, procedure, or principle (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 

When thinking about 2021, the words “hectic,” “crazy,” and “unexpected” come to mind. But, the word “normal” showed up everywhere: is this “normal,”  is this not “normal,” should this be “normal,” should this not be “normal”? This year, we used normal as a goal, or a baseline to understand our current situation. Considering this obsession, there can be no better way to sum up the year than to use “normal” to try and make sense of 2021.

School

Throughout the year, the phrase “return to normal” was used in regard to the effort to turn life back to what it was pre-COVID. For example, students in Radnor have been fully in-person since March 2021. When school doors opened in September, the option for virtual school had been removed, representing another step towards “normal.” The schedule returned to what it was before COVID: with 8-period days occurring three days a week, two block days, and the return of Community Period. Clubs and activities are back in-person and sports have returned to normal schedules. Students have been able to return to some of their pre-COVID activities, and classes and extracurriculars have recently been returning to how they functioned before the pandemic. It’s pretty safe to say that school is steadily reverting back to somewhat of a normal. 

COVID-19

2021 was the year we expected to break free from the COVID-19 pandemic. With vaccines, COVID restrictions were lessened. Vaccine eligibility became widespread, as anyone over 12 could get one. Access to vaccines also became widespread, and being able to get vaccinated became normal. Vaccine clinics were open everywhere, including three at Radnor. Needless to say, many people took the opportunity to get vaccinated and vaccination requirements became normal for many different jobs, colleges, and other activities. 

Yet despite all of the progress made in combating COVID, the masks continue to rest on (most of) our noses. And the masks will continue to be worn as the pandemic persists. Despite all of the progress made in combating COVID, new variants and vaccine hesitancy still pose a threat. But, after almost two years of wearing masks, they too have become normal. The pandemic isn’t over yet, so some of the pandemic normals, such as masking, are here to stay.

Activism

This year, many people took to social media and the streets to fight for what’s right. Whether it was Black Lives Matter, the Israel-Palestine conflict, LGBTQ+ protests, worker strikes, the protests in Myanmar, stopping anti-Asian hate, or freeing Britany, people around the world came together to fight for their beliefs. Injustices that were considered “normal” were being questioned, and the world reckoned with itself.

People saw that just because something is normal doesn’t mean it should be. People realized they can change what’s normal, and began to do just that. 2021 not only taught us that normal doesn’t always mean right, but that, by using our voices, we can change what’s normal for the better. 

Wealth Inequality

The gap between the poor and the rich was exacerbated in 2021. While some people’s normal was having enough money to go to space, other people’s normal was struggling to find enough food to eat. The rich have become richer. It has become normal for people to pay tens of millions of dollars for an image anyone can use for free (aka, the NFT). In comparison, other people’s normal does not even include a roof over their heads. Over time, a drastic difference in the quality of life has become normal.

Labor Shortages

Prior to the pandemic, it was normal for a worker to earn minimum wage. Now, workers want better conditions. Many realized in pandemic non-normal times just how unhappy they were; the job they had simply wasn’t treating them well enough. A job defines a person’s normal life because it determines how long they work, which for most jobs, is forty hours a week. For most people, a job defines how they are treated for eight hours a day, five days a week. A job also decides how much money one makes, which can determine where you live and the type of lifestyle you follow. Many workers decided that their job wasn’t providing the normal they wanted and changed their normal by quitting or working somewhere else. This caused a labor shortage, which showed that we need laborers so much that employers can’t even let workers quarantine for more than five days without disrupting society. 2021 taught us that workers are vital to our society, and they are taking steps to demand better conditions. Workers set boundaries for what they believe their normal should be, and workers know that they deserve to have that better normal.

Climate

Last year’s climate was far from normal. The weather saw new extremes and unexpected timing. Wildfires became a larger threat, and hurricanes and other storms increased in magnitude, causing more damage and flooding than ever before. Tornadoes became more common, and different types of extreme weather were found in unexpected places. Climate change is very real and is part of our everyday lives. Changes in the weather are becoming normal, and the destruction of extreme weather is leaning toward a new normal as well.

Social Media

Social media also changed in 2021. The January 6th insurrection was enabled by social media, which shocked many. People questioned if it should be normal to allow people to spread dangerous messages, such as misinformation spread in regards to vaccines. People realized that the impact of social media, and posts with false information, have become normal, and they questioned if social media should censor and take down harmful posts. Should it be normal to allow politicians, celebrities, and the everyday person to have such destructive power? Social media sites began to censor and fact-check posts more aggressively, which could normalize being held responsible for your posts. 


2021 was an attempt to bring 2020’s changes back to 2019’s normals. And while 2021 in itself was a crazy year, we are getting closer to some of the pre-COVID normals. However, the normal of future years will never be the normal of 2019, and that’s ok, and completely normal. What’s normal changes over time. It changes as society evolves, as innovation progresses, as information spreads, and as education expands. We should try to make normal the best normal it could be for everyone, for yourself, your friends, your family, your classmates, and your fellow human beings. And while some of that might be reverting back to 2019’s normals, it also means creating a new, better normal of 2022 and beyond.