The Return to Normal

Sunday, May 30th, 2021

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, which means backyard BBQs with neighbors, trips to the beach, or enjoying a walk on one of the region’s main streets or trails. And, if it weren’t so cold and rainy outside, we would be almost there.

Take a moment to think where you were a year ago. We have indeed come a long way in our quest to return to normal.

But, let’s pause right there. Just what is normal? Are we sure that the way it was two years ago is where we want to go?

Yes, to socialization. Yes, to getting our kids back in school. Yes, to attending sporting events and going to the movies (sorry to all you folks that think streaming is just fine!). There is plenty of life in 2019 that we should all yearn to return to.

But, whether it is “Build Back Better” or “Reimagine, Rebuild, and Renew,” I am all in.

We are all exploring, testing, and prodding what “normal” is right now. We have all had to adapt, and in that adaptation is where we just might find that the Pandemic ignited an awakening for the good in many parts of our society. This awakening is why I do not want to return to the old normal. The history books will use 2020 (by the way, a term used to signify “perfect vision”) as the demarcation point between pre- and post-COVID. What was life like before and after the Pandemic? Let’s explore a bit:

Work. The economic shutdown forced many of us to reimagine work. For some, it was learning to work remotely. For some, it was finding a hybrid version of work. It is going to take years to find the “new normal” for work as we search for equilibrium. Some employers found that productivity increased and they did not need all the brick and mortar commercial space. Equally, employees found that their work/life balance could be better and more productive. Pattern, several years ago, instituted a work-from-home policy, whereby each employee could work from home one day a week.  Our pivot, with the help of Zoom and Slack was seamless and made us even more productive. That it worked for us, does not mean it works for everyone. It will take years for employers and employees to adjust to the new normal for the workplace.

Play. Humans, it is said, are social creatures. The desire to be with others is going to create a surge to return to restaurants, sporting events and cheering with fans, movies, parks, trails. No question we want to be out and about. But what makes us unique is that no two people’s likes and dislikes are the same. So, consider that not all people enjoy the company of others in the same way. That there are many young people who thrive in the virtual world, as they may feel socially awkward in person. That adults can enjoy travel all over the world – online – and then pick the places to which they actually wish to travel. That there are more master classes, podcasts, and so many ways to increase your knowledge base and to satisfy your curiosity from the comfort of your own home. This increased exponentially during the Pandemic. Are we all gathering together or are we continuing to explore in this ever expanding virtual world?

Healthcare. Whether it was the speed at which the vaccine was found, or the benefits of telemedicine, medical research and the delivery of healthcare services have been permanently disrupted. There will be some who will only want to see their doctor in person. There will be others who will now have access to medical care that they couldn’t dream of due to distance to providers. Can we learn the lessons of COVID by understanding how viruses are transmitted and doing simple things, like washing our hands more frequently, to reduce the transmission of disease? Can we learn from the number of people who died, from not just COVID but co-morbidities (think obesity), to finally change how we think about healthcare for all? I, personally, do not want to go back to the old normal after what we have learned.

Social Awakening. In the midst of a Pandemic we had a social awakening particularly focused upon the inequitable treatment of people of color. It was focused on policing, but it is much broader than that. Do we learn the imperative to improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve and continue to strive for better ways to do so? Or, as crime rates rise, do we move from “Defund the Police” to “Where are the Police?,” and just return things to the way they were? We do need police, but we need different policing. It wasn’t just unjust policing that took place before our eyes, but the way in which COVID inequitably impacted communities of color. Do we return to normal or do we have the courage to do something about it?

Education. K-12 must return to in person classes in the Fall. Every school district must have no less than this as its goal. The reduction in learning and the lack of socialization has not been healthy for our young people. But, by equipping so many children with the ability to learn virtually, the new normal should include the ability to provide virtual support for those students that need additional help or to those who want to go beyond what they can learn in the classroom. We have an opportunity to redefine the “classroom” to be more than just the four walls where you learn for 45 minutes. I don’t want to return to the way it was.

So enjoy this weekend, the NBA playoffs, and being with friends. But, after a break, understand that returning to normal – a new normal – is going to take a lot of work and we need everyone to be a part of it.

Written by Jonathan Drapkin
President & CEO, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress