There is a lot of conversation on both broadcast and social media these days about the new normal that will exist after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. There is no doubt that things will be different than what we have become accustomed to in the early days of the 21st century. But what we have considered to be normal in the last few years is vastly different than we did only a few decades ago. The emergence of the communication age has brought about great changes to the landscape in just a few years. Communicating by smartphone has largely taken the place of face-to-face communication. Online shopping has made great inroads into the marketplace, replacing much of the commerce for brick and mortar establishments. Takeout and delivery were already beginning to take the place of dining out even before the imposition of social distancing mandates meant to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
This should not be a great surprise to anyone who knows much about history. What has been considered the cultural norm has continued to evolve ever since Man began to leave the cave dwelling hunter-gatherer existence to begin farming and domestication of livestock and to dwell first in villages and later cities. During this time division and specialization of labor also came into play, and along with it a barter and later monetary economy. These changes were very gradual and more easily adjusted to as a result. Through this period of evolution Man continued for the most part to live in large family groups and closely related tribes, seldom venturing far from home. There were exceptions, of course, as the population grew and migration occurred to explore and develop new lands. But change still came slowly and gradually.
Then the onset of the Industrial Age began to change things much more rapidly as more and more people left the farm to live in cities and work in the new factories. The nuclear family of father, mother and children became the new norm and mass production and new inventions began to replace much of the cottage industry that had existed for many years. The Industrial Age also introduced new means of more rapid transportation, such as the automobile and the railroads, greatly increasing the mobility of the population and enabling population shifts to a variety of locations previously considered almost inaccessible. Although these changes were massive most people were gradually able to adjust to them as the “new norm”.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the introduction of the telegraph, the telephone, motion pictures, radio and television, as well as mainframe computers, leading eventually to personal computers, mobile phones and later smartphones with more computing power than early mainframe computers. The Information Age was upon us, flooding us with more information in a day than our ancestors had accumulated over their lifetimes. The effects of this information overload and the rapidly increasing rate of change were noted as early as the 1970’s by authors such as Alvin Toffler in “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave”, Daniel H. Pink in “A Whole New Mind” and Jeremy Rifkin in “ENTROPY: A New World View”. Generational rifts were developing between older people for whom the new technologies and the societal changes they were engendering were often baffling, even frightening, and younger ones who easily and rapidly adopted them, as well as between those who had access to the technology and could afford it and those who did not and could not. By the early 21st century society was becoming more and more divided and divisive, with people with differing views on politics, religion, lifestyles, globalization, climate change and many other things shouting at each other (often on social media) rather than calmly and logically discussing their differences and trying to understand the other’s point of view.
That is where things stood when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly burst onto the scene in 2020, eventually engulfing the entire globe. Another new normal was being thrust upon us, unready and unwilling as we might be to accept it. Social distancing became the recommendation and in many places the mandated rule, shuttering many business and throwing more people out of work in the United States than we had seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The virus was starting to overwhelm the health care system and the death rate was skyrocketing, particularly in the minority communities where many already had developed compromised immune systems and underlying medical conditions due to lack of lack of accessibility and affordability of adequate routine medical care. Public gatherings were largely banned, creating challenges for religious organizations and others in communicating with and ministering to their members. Online virtual meetings and religious services became the rule, rather than the exception.
On the positive side, though, these changes were forcing us to confront the problems caused by the fragmentation of family and societal structure and the distances we were creating between societal groups, regions and even nations. We began to realize that we, that is, the whole of humanity, were in this together and starting to acknowledge the need for treating each other with respect and kindness, even love. Families were spending time together, conversing face to face and sharing meals together. Friends and neighbors (even distant neighbors) were checking in on each other and offering help to those who needed it. Government was providing relief to businesses and individuals who had lost their sources of income. We were all seeming to care more about the welfare of others beside ourselves. This was becoming the latest new normal for many.
The new normal will, of course, continue to evolve after the COVID-19 crisis dies out. Many who lost their jobs will not be able to return to them, some because their employers no longer even exist. Workers will have to retrain for other types of work. Owners who lost their businesses will have to start over to compete in the new economy. But although many former opportunities will be lost, many new ones will arise for those willing to do what is necessary to take advantage of them. This will be part of the new normal.
I admit that not everyone is changing yet. There is still too much name calling, backbiting and finger pointing. And there are those who are still acting selfishly, ignoring social distancing mandates and hoarding vital resources for themselves. However, I am hopeful, if not yet fully convinced, that those who seek a kinder, gentler, more loving and caring society will soon reach a tipping point that will tilt society in that direction. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”
When that occurs perhaps we can one day reach a state where everyone’s needs are met and we can all lead carefree lives, being fully present in the daily now, accepting what is, without concern for the past or the future. We will then have returned to the original normal, as it was in the Garden of Eden before Man’s fall, enjoying each moment and savoring our close relationship with our Creator. That is God’s heartfelt desire for all of us. May it be so.