Between Normal and New
Two stark truths to ponder in this time of reinvention
“Collapse “or “hardship” are our choices right now, front and centre as we continue to navigate the pandemic world, embedded in all our thoughts and actions as citizens, governments, social service organizations and businesses. This is not something that any of us can escape.
For the most part, we have chosen hardship over collapse. As we navigate our pandemic world, we have created networks of feedback loops to help us understand the consequences of our individual and collective actions. We employ scientific knowledge to understand how to best treat COVID-19, how to best prevent its spread before we have a vaccine, and to create a vaccine.
We have and will continue to reallocate resources to ensure that helpful actions are prioritized and harmful actions are minimized or eliminated. We are reallocating financial resources to fund the best strategies that will minimize the spread of the virus. Businesses and industry are reallocating their expertise to make new products, like ventilators, face masks and hand sanitizer. And to avoid system collapse and minimize human deaths, we will continue to use feedback loops to ensure we move in the direction we wish to move: physical, social and economic well-being.
There is a strong pull within us to move back to normal, to business as was usual, even as we are many months into this situation. Opening businesses, ceasing our physical distancing practices too early is collapse behaviour. Wanting something to be as it was is insufficient to make it so; feedback loops are life and death right now and we ignore them at our peril.
Feedback loops are life and death right now and we ignore them at our peril.
When we ponder the choice between collapse and hardship, we must explore this question: What feedback are you receiving that makes to uncomfortable to hear? It is vital to bolster our appreciation and use of feedback, even if we don’t like what it is telling us.
There’s a conundrum in this question, in the appreciation of receiving information we don’t want to hear. Allowing ourselves to hear what we don’t want to hear is vital to how well we make it through the pandemic, or any difficult situation, and the hardship that comes with it.
Two stark truths
#1 we will not all survive
There are two stark truths we need to hear and accept. The first is that we will not all survive the pandemic. At the end of April 2020, the death toll as a direct result of COVID-19 was over 200,000 people around the planet. As I write, the death toll has surpassed 1,200,200. Deaths in the United States alone have passed 246,000. In April, we were on the cusp of 3 million cases and as I write we have reached over 14.6 million active cases.
To avoid collapse, save lives and save civilization in some semblance of how we know it, we are choosing to flatten the curve. We are choosing social and economic hardship to save lives; to survive we choose to be physically distant from each other, close businesses and parks. The movement of money has slowed or stalled and the bills are piling up.
#2 we are in an upside-down world between normal and new
The second stark truth is that our lives are not going to return to the way they were a few months ago. We are not in a new normal. We are in an upside-down world that exists between what was normal and a new world in the future. We are in a transition from “who we were” to “who we are going to be”.
At first, when we were self-isolating, it felt like “cocooning”, a subtle metaphor at first glance, but an explicit metaphor for transformation. The metaphor still applies. All together, we are in a liminal state, like that of a caterpillar in a cocoon before it emerges as a butterfly. It is not obvious what or who we will become, but we know it will be quite different from what we were used to.
We are reaching for something new
We are reaching for a new and stable normal. It is not now, but what we do now shapes everything. What we think, make and do now shapes who we are and who we will become. We are in transition from something beautiful, in something beautiful, to something beautiful. And while we are “in” the cocoon, we need to take not to burst out too soon, or we won’t survive and enjoy the beauty of a new perspective.
While we are “in” the cocoon, we need to take not to burst out too soon, or we won’t survive and enjoy the beauty of a new perspective.
Both of these stark truths, that the pandemic threatens the survival of many of our species, and that we will not be able to return to the world as it was, must be accepted to make good use of the feedback loops available to us.
The quality of our collective decision-making is threatened when we do not allow ourselves to accept these two truths because we deny the information looping back to us. The courage to consider these truths without wallowing in devastation, even if for a moment, enables us to respond responsibly. This courage is needed in citizens, as well as our governments, social service organizations and businesses.
The courage to consider these truths without wallowing in devastation, even if for a moment, enables us to respond responsibly.
4 simultaneous actions
Four simultaneous courses of collective action are needed as we grapple with the pandemic and its consequences. All four are legitimate and required.
- Address the immediate and pending health care needs of the population. This is work explicitly in the purview of our nations’ chief medical officers of health and health care systems. They are employing feedback loops to ascertain appropriate courses of action. They rely on the reallocation of resources of government officials.
- Address the immediate and pending economic needs of the population. The wisest course of action, like keeping our physical distance from each other, will not take place if people’s livelihood is threatened. If there is no money coming in, people are going to work even if it risks exposure to COVID-19, and its spread.
- Acknowledge the trauma and grief associated with our situation. For families who have lost loved ones, there is grief and trauma. For people working the front lines of our health care system, there is grief and trauma. For people who have lost their livelihood, there is grief and trauma. For people who experience heightened hardship with the pandemic, because of race, age, economic circumstances, there is grief and trauma. Allocation of resources to assist now, and in the future, with our mental health is necessary. We need to set ourselves up to heal ourselves.
- Reach forward to new possibilities to choose the quality of our present and future. If we accept that we will be changed by this experience, we can choose what we wish to learn and how we wish to grow as people, as a species. If we put our energy into returning to the world that was, we negate the opportunity to improve ourselves.
The pandemic is giving us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. And it all starts on the ground in our communities and cities because how we make our communities and cities is a survival skill.
The pandemic is giving us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. And it all starts on the ground in our communities and cities.
- In what ways have you reinvented yourself, or would you like to reinvent yourself?
- What opportunities do you see for you city to reinvent itself? How about the human species?
An earlier version of this article first appeared on April 26, 2020 at bethsanders.ca