May 10, 2020 § 4 Comments
Normal is a collective state, one that self-perpetuates largely because we believe in it.
We rarely question normal, even when it includes horrific behaviors because, heck, it is what it is.
Normal morphs over time, usually gradually, and we adjust, riding that change the way we did as kids jumping the wave at the beach.
But there are switch-throwing moments when “normal” is upended, and the pattern that settles out is wholly new, like a community after a category five hurricane when all the landmarks: the houses, churches, schools, the shoreline have been blown away, scrubbed clean.
Sometimes the abrupt shift is a response to a technological breakthrough: the wheel, the internal combustion engine, the internet. Technology can jolt us into a new normal.
We are at one of those jolt-points now. This time our collective-normal is being reset by a new, efficient, deadly virus.
Holed up in our houses, we are living a game of keep-away that has no obvious end point. We keep away from each other, from our jobs, our plans, and our dreams.
It may well go on long enough that the systems that sustained our agreed-upon normal will wither, rust, break down, atrophy, or blow away with the wind, and the hardships that result will be enormous.
The normal that comes out the other side will be smaller, poorer, leaner, more local, and more pragmatic.
If, after the plague and its mismanagement, our institutions are as badly shattered as it appears they will be, we will be largely on our own. We will fight like street dogs over the scraps, or we will cooperate and help each other; the new normal will be a ruthless demonstration of survival of the fittest, or it will be the dawn of a powerful and active culture of kindness.
I am an optimist. I am counting on kindness to prevail, and I see it already as our current “normal” hurtles toward the edge of the cliff. All around me I see people doing for one another. Sharing.
Either way though, our old normal will never come back and, like it or not, we will shape ourselves to the new normal we are just beginning to see. The normal of two months ago will be a story we tell the young, like tales of long-ago wars, the Great Depression, party lines, the Beatles, and bell bottom pants.
Our old normal will strike young listeners as strange, fantastic. Perhaps those stories of plenty will shine fairy-tale bright. Perhaps they will be jealous of all we had, all we were able to take for granted.
Perhaps the new normal will make listeners turn away in disbelief—surely no one consumed that much, treated the planet that badly, was ever that selfish–no wonder people were called “consumers” back then.
I am not looking forward to the next wave of the virus, and the next, the deaths, the job losses, the hunger, but I am hoping that the agony we are living will produce a new normal, one that is better.
One in which our species is right-sized for its spot in the web of life.
One in which kindness has replaced greed, and we all listen more appreciatively to the hum of the other lives all around us.
Note: Our daughter, Josie Faass, runs a foundation that advocates for change and, like me, she sees this as a moment of peril, but also one of opportunity. Click here to learn more.