Why We Shouldn’t Embrace a Post-Pandemic 'New Normal'
Recognizing the value of optimism in weathering the storm.
Posted Aug 13, 2020
Sanitized, socially-distanced life may be temporarily necessary for our physical health, but ultimately harmful to our mental health—unless we can see an end in sight. Thankfully, considering both the history of past pandemics and daily updates in medical research and development, we can. Focusing on returning to the world we knew, living in community, as opposed to believing we will have to adapt to living “alone together,” will benefit us both physically and emotionally.
Social Isolation Is Not Normal
Whether it is sooner or later, our lives will return to the pre-coronavirus world. Kids will go back to school, their parents will go back to work, and businesses will reopen. Learning to adapt to a lifestyle of isolation or seclusion, as if it were here to stay, is not a healthy plan for humanity, or a workable plan for the economy. Rather, as an emergency response to a health crisis, it is a necessary, but temporary solution.
Writing for Forbes, Josie Cox describes the term “new normal” as an overused cliché that has been used for years to describe predicted new trends and behavior—many of which never materialized.[i] She notes that the media response to COVID-19 might have you believing it should be added to the short list of the proverbial certainties in life: death and taxes.
Cox also brings up the practical questions of how something new can be considered normal, and conversely, how normal things can be new? Applying these observations to post-pandemic life, perhaps the best plan is to recognize that optimistically anticipating a return to the normalcy we knew pre-COVID-19 will keep us grounded in our vision for the future, as we respect and follow current health and distancing restrictions as a temporary lifestyle.
Kids Will Go Back to School
Robert Pondiscio, writing for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,[ii] points out that remote learning is not the new normal. He notes that remote school will not become the primary we educate our children, instead describing the act of sending our children to school every morning as “a cultural habit formed over many generations.” He notes that young children may be harmed more seriously by extended school closures, because the early years are often most critical to a child’s formal education, and without in-person classes, social development will also be adversely impacted.
He also observes that homeschooling can end up being more about the parents than the curriculum, noting that very young children in particular are unlikely to benefit from remote learning if they do not also have a parent or caregiver who is actively engaged in the process.
Parents Will Go Back to Work
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published extensive guidelines for safe back-to-work practices.[iii]Why such detailed and comprehensive recommendations? Because the workforce will continue. Smart, responsible employees will take all of the precautions necessary to protect themselves, and their loved ones at home. Some employees, for whom it is an option, may decide to telework until a vaccine or curative pharmaceutical treatments are available, particularly if they care for those who are elderly, suffer from pre-existing conditions, or are otherwise immune-compromised. But a mindset that the workplace will never resemble the pre-pandemic structure is unsettling and arguably unrealistic.
Social Distancing Is a Temporary Fix
Chime Asonye in World Economic Forum notes that it may be psychologically unhealthy to consider pandemic-prompted conditions as “normal.”[iv] Asonye notes that is not normal for society to live in isolation, expecting to adapt to feelings of loss or despair, accepting this “morbid reality” as the new standard. Instead, the suggestion is to resist normalizing the current situation, instead taking the time to process it.
In addition, as a practical matter, Asonye recognizes that a concept of “new normal” is not a workable solution for underprivileged populations who are unable to afford personal protective equipment or effectively practice social distancing, or live on the streets without access to a home within which to quarantine.
COVID-19 inspired temporary measures can be viewed as exactly that—temporary. Acknowledging that living socially distanced may be necessary right now, but will never be normal, will allow us to retain a perspective of faith and hope in a bright future as we weather the storm.