Let’s Do It Better

Free Image by K. Kliche from Pixabay

People talk about the ‘new normal’. You’re probably fed up with it already, I’ve added it to my list of cliches that I avoid as much as possible. It’s not as bad as the longed for ‘back to normal’ though. We have a terrible urge to look backwards rather than forwards, not looking where we are going. We cannot go back, there is no back from this pandemic, everything has changed, even if we have not, which is why we are stuck in the past, waiting for ‘normal’ to reappear.

Unless we are open to thinking, being and living differently we cannot learn or change anything. Change is inevitable but at times we try to squelch change underfoot as if nothing has happened.

Two things must surely come out of a shared worldwide experience, of pandemic, a word few of us had ever used before, these are learning and healing. What have we learned? One thing many of us have learned, perhaps especially in open spaces in London, is that joggers are oblivious to other people, except when you have the temerity to be in their way. While we are outside, social distancing and enjoying our lockdown exercise, they are running straight at us, huffing and puffing, breathing down our necks, barging into us. This hasn’t changed yet, but it needs to. This is one of those negative behaviours that emerge when people don’t change, holding onto ‘normal’, imposing it on others.

Where I live the parks are full, of people sitting in circles having picnics or just enjoying each other’s company, exercising, playing games with their children, or offering boxing training, as I saw last night. Outdoors has become the new indoors. We will be healthier as a result of the pandemic, most of us have not caught coronavirus, or not knowingly. We now have a renewed relationship with open spaces. Many people have reconnected with their gardens, an open space that is theirs, both safe and permitted during lockdown.

People were doing these things before but not in such numbers, though I wish I’d observed more before the pandemic so that I could quantify the change, ‘normal’ is only a comparator. We have learned that we can enjoy open spaces more than before, at any time of day, a walk round the park is part of working life as we take a break from endless Zoom calls (part of the ‘new normal’ which needs taming). This points to the fact that we got out of our cars, and public transport, because there was nowhere to go, either for work or leisure, it is sad to see the roads getting ‘back to normal’ as traffic volumes increase and congestion returns. Yes, we want traffic jams again, it’s normal …

Most of us didn’t work from home before but we have now changed and learned from the experience. How many of us sat at a computer for eight hours a day, scarcely moving from our desks, not taking a lunch break or regular pauses from looking at the screen? It’s something I felt very evangelical about before the pandemic, I wrote about it in ‘I’m too busy!’ at the height of the lockdown. My thoughts then were rooted in pre-lockdown working behaviour. Hopefully we have changed, even permanently, though one of the ‘new normal’ toxic working practices is working harder than before, putting in more hours because we don’t have to commute. Making a cup of tea or having a comfort break has become so much more efficient now that we don’t bump into colleagues and have a chat with them before we get back to our desks.

I hope that the ‘new normal’ means that we pace ourselves and take regular breaks. Walking around the park in the middle of the morning is work, how else will we keep body, mind and spirit fresh and productive? Perhaps we don’t know it but the ‘old normal’ was waiting for us all the time and I won’t say too much about it because I think my friend Ani Gupta will be writing about it. Basically, before the industrial revolution (the ‘new normal’ of course) most people were homeworkers and had a better work-life balance. Even talking about ‘work-life balance’ highlights the problem of the toxic ‘old normal’. Learning and healing, during and after the pandemic, is about having space, breathing, getting some balance into our lives. Working on our own in our own homes must teach us this, if nothing else, ‘back to normal’ is a toxic anti-learning world view.

Community has returned with the pandemic, not the communities and groups that we were already in and still miss but the local community on our doorsteps. Healing is being aware of your neighbour, considering their need for one metre-plus of space, wearing a mask. What threatens communities is imposing on others, invading their space and pushing them aside or ignoring them until it is too late — this is the joggers again! Not taking space but making space and sharing it. Hopefully we emerge more connected and aware, something that religions and worldviews have been trying to encourage us to do for millennia. Our current lockdowns may be ending in the autumn, or even winter, but when they do it will be a new beginning, like Spring — rebirth, resurrection, a new chapter, not going back to the beginning of the book and starting again.

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Julian Bond

Grant maker; writer #JesusRediscovered; former CEO @chrismusforum; freelance interfaither @stethelburgas, @UKHousingFast @johnsw. Vegetarian, Muslim ally.