The new normal. Everyone is talking about it. Social distancing. Gatherings of fewer than 10 people. Necessities-only shopping. Face masks, lost jobs, strained resources, economic mayhem. Mayhem in general.
Thing is, this isn’t the new normal. We’re not living in a Mad Maxesque dystopian nightmare, roaming the vast wasteland, killing for food and fuel and trying to stay out of the Thunderdome.
If anything, this is the new right now. The interim normal, if you will.
Even now, families and individuals, businesses, cities, counties, states and nations are thinking about “reopening” and getting back to “normal” life. Many are thinking it’s too soon, but still they’re thinking about it.
What will the actual new normal be? Experts on many levels seem to think it will take a while to settle on that. Even when things do open up, it may take months or even years for people to feel safe doing some of the things they rarely thought twice about pre-pandemic. Going to the theater. Going to the grocery store. Gathering in crowds for whatever reason. Hugging socially. Shaking hands.
Time will tell how that will all play out. How much time is anyone’s guess. We’re all learning as we go with this thing.
But some lessons already are emerging. At the heart of each of them lies creativity. If nothing else, the coronavirus and the limitations it has required to stem its spread have forced us to think creatively about things big and small.
Can’t have a birthday party for your child? Enlist family and friends to form a drive-by of the most joyous kind. Can’t have a business meeting or council meeting or club meeting in person? Zoom it. Or Skype it. Or phone it in. Can’t shake hands? Bump elbows.
On the larger end of the spectrum of human activity, the status quo has been turned sideways just as abruptly. We’ve been forced to consider creative solutions that were thought to be too difficult, too weird, too expensive or too troublesome to work — if they were thought of at all.
Some of the biggies:
• Education: Distance learning is nothing new. But it was just starting to come fully into the mainstream with online-earned degrees beginning to be seen as equivalent to those gained from traditional institutions, or nearly at least.
The pandemic has put its evolution on the fast track, as schools from the largest, most prestigious universities to community colleges to every level of high school and primary school and even dance classes and hobby instruction scramble to teach and engage with students from afar.
• Health care: Telehealth or telemedicine had just started inching its way in from the fringe when coronavirus changed the game. Now, almost every type of health care practitioner has by necessity figured out how to honor appointments and tend to patient needs online or by phone.
• Business: So many jobs that have historically kept workers tied to a desk — micromanaged and caught up in the proverbial rat race, clogging highways at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. five days a week — all of a sudden are being done from home.
• Criminal justice: Prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. But law enforcement and the legal system keep pumping in criminals — many of whom simply don’t need to be there.
Since coronavirus, the criminal justice system is looking more closely and individually at current inmates and cases, and law enforcement is taking more creative care in how it handles minor violations — both in effort to make social distancing in prison units more possible.
These are just a few examples. The possibilities are endless for a more creative, forward-thinking and thoughtful — as in full of thought — society. The challenge is before us to 1) explore how other, more socially progressive countries operate and 2) rethink our own systems, paradigms and sacred cows.
Once the pandemic has passed and our fears have been assuaged, when we can take a break and a breath, we should be careful to not follow the siren call of the status quo and rush back to conformity.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner