Try searching for ‘COVID-19 new normal’ in Google; you’ll be amazed by the number of results. Whilst some of us are waiting for things to return to the old normal, others fervently believe things will never be like they were before. Then there are those busy defining the new normal: remote working, the death of the physical office, online education, etc. Whichever category you fall into, everyone can agree that the virus has completely altered the way we think of normal. Whether it was 9/11 or the global recession of 2008, we have effectively been defining what the new normal will be for decades. The difference between past and present catastrophes, however, is that we still don’t know how the current crisis will end.
So many strange things are happening around us. Who would ever have thought that visiting a beach, or a park, could earn you a fine? That toilet paper could become a matter of life or death in a brawl, or that we wouldn’t be allowed to pay last respects to our loved ones. None of this is ‘normal,’ and it’s no surprise that people want to get away; cruise ship bookings have shot up for 2021. We are living in fluid times. Any new normal you define today will inevitably be replaced by another new normal sooner than you can imagine. Who knows if there will be a second wave of cases hiding around the corner, or what things will look like as economies reopen. For anything to be considered ‘normal,’ stability is required, and this virus is unlikely to allow anything remain stable in the months to come.
It is impossible to apply the dictionary definition of normal to our current, complicated experience. It’s neither usual nor expected. Moreover, the crisis is ongoing; we’re not yet in a position to fully understand what’s happening around us and draw logical conclusions. It has even raised questions about our old normal: the virus has revealed the shortfalls of our businesses, work, and overall society. The shift towards digitalization, cleanliness, and environmental protection is not a unique creation of the pandemic; these themes mattered before, but the virus has accelerated this shift, forcing us to pay attention. Will we call this the new normal?
Our current and near-future state is best described by the entrepreneur Mark Cuban as the “new abnormal.” When the virus hit us, everything became abnormal — from the way we live, work, and communicate, to how we perceive hygiene and safety. If we are learning to live with this new abnormal, however, shouldn’t it by definition become the new normal? If we embrace the current situation and how it’s taught us how to keep social connections healthy, that health and well-being are at least on par with material wealth, and that we don’t need all the luxuries to live a satisfying life, will we ultimately be better off? We’ve not only got to learn to live with the virus, but also with the new abnormal around us.
We are living in strange and confounding times, full of disruption, uncertainty, and dramatic change. Don’t get fixated on finding the new normal overnight. We are all still trying to figure it out. Take your time, learn to live with abnormality, and hopefully, we will get there. Maybe we shouldn’t be fixated on finding the new normal at all. Perhaps, as pointed out by the World Economic Forum, we should revel in the discomfort of the current moment to generate a 'new paradigm', not a 'new normal.' After all, now the cracks in our old normal have been exposed, would you even want to go back?