We Need To Stop Pining About ‘Returning To Normal’

We are dangling a carrot which doesn’t exist from a stick we can’t ever reach because it points to the past not the future.

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Image by Donkey Cartoon

When it comes to being shut down and isolated at home we can all agree we are pretty much over it. The novelty has worn off, we are going stir crazy staring at the same walls every day, we are stressed and anxious to resume our lives fully aware of the economic impacts being suffered at all levels. Thanks to our growing desperation the optimistic mantra of ‘hoping things will get back to normal soon’ has become more of an agonized plea. Trouble is it’s a false target. Even once this is all finally passed and done things are not going to go back to the way they were before. They can’t, and we need to stop setting ourselves up to expect them to.

Never mind arguments over whether or not we should want things to go back to the way they were we need to accept and understand that they simply are not going to. They can’t.

The global economic situation is not the same as it was at the end of last year. Our jobs and workplaces are not the same, both because of the economic differences and because of the continuing need for safety precautions. All of our activities from work to recreation to entertainment to socializing are all going to be different because we will need to be conscious of safety precautions at least well into next year.

The concept of ‘normal’ is not an inherently evil one, in either of its two main meanings. In all large groups, communities, and societies there will always be trends and norms. And any situation, regardless of it circumstances, if it persists long enough can be adapted and acclimated to as normal.

But norms can be complicated things. For all norms there will be those outliers who do not fit within them, and our species does not exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to its treatment of outliers. And simply because we can acclimatize to a situation does not mean it is a good one. Life with serious illness, as a prisoner of war, with persistent mental health struggles, in an abusive relationship, can all be adapted to and accepted as normal if we are stuck within them long enough.

Our ability to adapt to virtually any circumstance is our species’ superpower enabling us to survive essentially anything. But it is also what can keep us trapped there.

The desire for our lives to return to how they were before this crisis is natural and understandable. The complete global upheaval we have had thrust upon us, while perhaps predictable at a theoretical level, was entirely unforeseen. We all had plans for this year which were built on our plans from last year and which were aimed and feeding into our plans for next year and the year after that. We were, if perhaps not universally comfortable, at least familiar with our existing normal. We had adapted and acclimatized to it.

There is no denying that normal was in a degree of upheaval as political ideologies were in turmoil, in some places shifting slightly and in others drastically. There was, and still is, a great deal of divisiveness and erosion of previous norms, aside from the crisis, but we weren’t entirely shocked as it had grown out of troubles which have been building and brewing for a long while. But we are finding ourselves longing for it nonetheless, in line with the pithy sentiment of wishing we were as skinny as we actually were back when we thought we were fat, for its greater degree of familiarity.

We will eventually be able to return to our previous activities and endeavors we will just be doing so through different and altered approaches and methods. From greatly increased virtual working and studying to the re-emergence of drive-in movies to their being fewer available appointment slots for hair-cuts and massage treatments because practitioners need more time to safely disinfect and reset between clients. The activities will return, our methods will simply be different. That doesn’t mean they have been ruined or diminished. They are just going to be different.

Of course we want our previous and familiar approaches back. Whether they were ideal or not they were familiar, we were used to them. They were our normal. Even those we might have been seeking to change were the goal was to improve them based upon preference not to have them forcibly altered by non-negotiable life or death necessity. We are always able to adapt, we just prefer to do so on our terms.

And that is where a great deal of this fury, desperation, and ‘over it’ is coming from. In the backs of our minds we know we are able to adapt to essentially anything. Our current limbo has been going on long enough we can feel that capacity kicking in. Even a new normal might be okay, we just don’t want this to be it. We don’t want our current stewing at home in existential anxieties to be our new normal and we are starting to feel terrified it is in danger of turning out to be just that.

We are reaching a point where we feel able to convince ourselves even worse would be better than more of the same. Especially when we have so much handy misinformation, which seems to imply making it worse is the best way to make it better, being helpfully pedaled by those who are functioning from blatantly naked self-interest.

The blunt truth is this highly infectious virus is here and it is not going to simply up and go away tomorrow, next week, or next month. We are going to have to account for it and grapple with it for the foreseeable future. Not the next month or two, the next year or two.

Will we be on lock-down for the next year or more? No.

Will we be filling stadiums to attend concerts and sporting events before the end of this year? No.

We will be able to start back to work, to restart the economic wheels, if we are cautious and steady about it. If we are reckless we will just wind up resetting the board back to March, only this time with an added zero or two to the numbers we are tracking.

We will get through this. We will establish a new normal and a life of perpetual lock-down will not be it. Precaution and responsible behavior will be part of our new normal but we will find a way to function and feel familiarity there.

Not because it shouldn’t, though there are certainly arguments to be made, but because it can’t. The new normal will, in several ways, be very different from our old one but it will not be worse than our current one. Backwards is not the only positive option. In fact, it isn’t an option at all.

We need to stop letting our fears lead us around by our noses turning us into petulant children complaining over not being able to play with our old toys. We will get through this and build a new functional normal but it will require all of us to participate in building it. Which we can’t do if we’re all busy tripping over our pouting bottom lips while trying to travel backwards in time or serving ourselves up to those eager to dress us up in the emperor’s new clothes and who will immediately have a convenient list of people to blame when the consequences of their misdirections come calling.

Written by

A professional dancer, choreographer, theatre creator, and featured TEDx speaker with an honours degree in psychology, two black belts, and a lap-top.

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