Almost since this pandemic started to impact our daily lives, there’s been talk of “the new normal,” about how the future will be very different from the past we’ve been living. There are a variety of narratives and speculation about what the new normal might look like; how it might be lived.
Some are suggesting that how we’re living now, in the middle of the crisis, is the template for what comes after… that there is no “after” but only a new normal of isolation, separation and threat. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it will be.
Some are suggesting that after the current period of crisis response, life will return to pre-pandemic norms. The economy will return to it’s previous condition, shops will reopen, work will be what it was before, relationships will go back to the way they worked before, and it will be as if this whole pandemic experience was a bad dream from which we have awakened. I’m also relatively certain that won’t happen either.
Some are suggesting that life after COVID-19 will be a harsher, more state-controlled situation, where authoritarian impulses will gain the upper hand. Personal freedoms and civil liberties will be sacrificed on the altar of perceived security to offer people what will, in fact, be an illusion. Think of the Patriot Act in the USA immediately following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, where state surveillance with and without public knowledge compromised fundamental principles of equality, liberty and freedom. The pessimist in me feels this is a real possibility, although I also feel that many people will be sensitive to the seduction this illusion offers, having been tricked by it before, and will very vocally reject it.
Still another scenario, fervently wished for by a growing number of individuals, is that our experiences during this time of lockdown, shutdown and discomfort has sufficiently highlighted the multiple shortcomings of our previous societal models that fundamental structural changes will be demanded. Everything from supply chain economics to growth capitalism to economic and social inequity will be called into question. The potential to rebuild society with a new, quasi-utopian vision will rise up and life will be better in meaningful ways for all participants. The idealist in me swoons at the thought.
But the realist in me knows that none of these scenarios will come to pass. Humans and the societies they create are nothing if not unpredictable. The human response, by virtue of our evolutionary survival over tens of thousands of years, has made us primarily reactionary by nature. We will react, individually and in groups, to the challenges we’ve come through during this time. Our reactions will be varied and shaped by our personal interpretation of our experiences.
We WILL roll up our sleeves and get on with the day. Many will take stock of how our governmental and institutional authorities handled themselves and the situation during the crisis, and will hold those authorities accountable, in the streets and at the ballot box.
Others, worn out from the challenge, will retreat into whatever structures and patterns offer comfort and succour after the exhausting and somewhat frightening time we are living through now. They will require gentle support and encouragement to restore their spirits so they can step up to the plate of life and living.
My best hope and wish for the post-pandemic “new normal” is an objective yet sensitive taking stock of the choices we must make to amplify the human spirit and forge new, healthier, more compassionate ways of conducting human affairs.
It took many generations working diligently to build a world pursuing a particular vision of the future (that may have taken a wrong turn or two along the way) to bring us to where we were before the pandemic hit. Modifying that world using what we’ve discovered during the COVID-19 crisis will not be simple or easy. The important thing to note is that we CAN course correct our trajectory, leveraging what we’ve learned previously about technology, how economies work (and don’t work) and identifying the parts of the pre-pandemic world that we’d like to change for the better.
The first step in the right direction will be for each of us to assess our own thoughts and feelings about how life worked before the crisis and how we would like things to be after the crisis is over. Humans’ ability to visualize the future is one of the most important aspects of what we are that separates us from the rest of the living beings on this planet. We must exercise that ability to visualize; to create a mental map of the future before we venture forward into the unknown post-COVID new world.
Writing this at the beginning of June 2020, I realize it will be many months before the current conditions of separation, isolation and threat are over. NOW is the perfect time to begin visualizing the future we want, laying the groundwork for how we will manifest that vision in our own individual lives before we begin the challenging (and exhilarating) task of manifesting that positive change in the world around us.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be gentle with yourself and those around you. Join me as we celebrate the new normal, waiting for the dawn.