Recently, I read an article on CNN reporting that experts say we’re not going “back to normal.” This is hardly news. In March — before the lockdown in NYC officially started — I wrote about how going back to normal is not an option.
It’s likely that even when we have a vaccine for the coronavirus, certain elements of life will continue to remain different from how we knew them before. The “success” of Zoom school already looks to have killed the snow day.
Wearing masks in public when you have a cold or the flu may become routine, just like it is in parts of Asia. Staying home when you feel sick might actually become encouraged, not merely acceptable. We may subject ourselves to temperature checks and screening questions before participating in group activities or gathering with others in defined spaces — even though they are unreliable. Capacity limits in enclosed spaces may become a permanent fixture.
Just like my nephews look at me like I have 3 heads when I share how I did research in the library because Google didn’t exist, their kids might find it hard to comprehend how shaking hands as a way of greeting strangers was considered the polite and respectful thing to do.
While the pandemic has given us plenty to mourn, it’s worth checking in to look at some of these changes and how they might shift our collective values.
Did we really need a pandemic to make it acceptable for people to stay home when they are sick? What does it say about a culture when people get praised for “powering through” at the expense of their health?
What we call normality in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it. — Abraham Maslow 
Maybe 2020 is giving us exactly what we needed: a big shake-up and a wake-up call to notice what normal was so that we can transcend it. Why would we want to go back?
- Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 1968. ↩