What is the ‘new normal’ everyone is talking about?

Disability, Inclusion -

What is the ‘new normal’ everyone is talking about?

“I just want things to go back to normal” has become a common refrain during the Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK. But what does that mean? And how important will it be, going forward, to understand each other’s “normal”? What can we learn from having had our ‘status quo’ rattled so hard by this unanticipated event?

Leisure and social interaction

We are, as a society, comprised of individuals and our perceptions of ‘normal’ may differ. For those of us with jobs that can be done from home (i.e. not builders, supermarket workers or other site-specific roles) and who have been fortunate to not have lost loved ones, when we say ‘normal’, we are likely imagining being able to enjoy social activities – among other things, of course.

We want to go to a beer garden with friends or family members, we want to travel, workout at the gym or go to a restaurant for dinner. There is no judgement here. Social interaction is fundamental to people’s wellbeing and the leisure, cultural and hospitality industries are central to that.

But when these things are opened up to us again, things will be different. There may still be social distancing requirements that change the experiences we were accustomed to. This could mean we cannot go to the places we want to go because they have reached their (reduced) capacity. This could breed feelings of jealousy and cause frustration. “Why can these people enjoy a meal when we’ve been turned away? Is the system fair? Are we all getting an equal chance?”

I hope that this frustration may lead to a greater empathy and understanding of the challenges disabled people face when trying to access these things. I hope we see the steps and lack of ramp access when we cannot enjoy our evening plans because there is no room due to social distancing restrictions.

Disillusionment

For many people, ‘normal’ will not be so easy to define any more. Think of the people who lost their jobs and are now struggling to find employment. The same goes for people who didn’t lose their job permanently but were told recently by Boris Johnson that they should go back to work before guidelines for workplace social distancing protocols had even been confirmed.

Consider the key workers who weren’t provided adequate protection or guidance during the pandemic. Think about the disabled community, some of whom were made to feel like they should not be prioritised when resources ran low and decisions were being made about which patients should receive continued care/key equipment. And for every person who lost their lives – and the people who loved them – things won’t feel the same ever again.

How can a return to ‘normal’ be expected when you have been made to feel unsafe, unimportant, ignored entirely or viewed as a burden? In ‘The Ecology of Stress’ (1988) Stevan E. Hobfoll wrote that: “…threats to the integrity of social and economic resources create extreme stress by challenging fundamental assumptions about the world”.

This is likely to be the general feeling when lockdown restrictions are eased and we start to look to the future. It is also why the phrase ‘return to normal’ is so complicated. Many people will be disillusioned, angry, traumatised or jaded. They may well not want to return to something that existed before, but instead to build something new; something fairer.

Out of the ashes of a collective trauma like this pandemic, we can hope for at least some positives. It is imperative that we all do what we can to make sure our ‘new normal’ includes the lessons this shared experience has taught us. For example:

  • For people with chronic illnesses and physical impairments, feelings of isolation and exclusion have existed long before the pandemic. Employers can and should be more flexible with employees who need adjustments (such as home working) to do their job. The same goes with learners who require adjustments (such as virtual/e-learning) to get the same standard of education as their peers. Hopefully, those of us who do not have a chronic illness or impairment will be more compassionate and more willing to listen to those who do.
  • Key workers are often amongst the lowest paid in society, but we – and the government – expected them to jeopardise their health to continue doing their jobs during the pandemic. Are we content to allow this to continue?
  • The leisure/hospitality/arts and culture sectors, as well as access to countryside and outdoor spaces are often viewed as ‘nice-to-haves’ but they have proven themselves to be integral to our emotional, physical and psychological wellbeing. As consumers, we need to embrace the value of these things and invest in them. We must pay for these services and acknowledge that we are not entitled to them for free because people work to provide them (books and journalism/written features are examples).
  • Politics is not like football. You do not decide who to support based on who your family supports and has supported for years. You do not vote based on a whim or without doing some research. You listen to voices and opinions that dissent from your own and those of your inner circle. You challenge your own ideology. Clapping for the NHS is not enough. You must vote for political parties who do not systematically undermine and dismantle this vital national resource. I realise that wading into politics is something many companies steer clear of but Kintsugi is and has always been a company driven by equality. It focuses on health issues, both physical and mental, and therefore cannot maintain its integrity while shying away from politics.

This pandemic has fundamentally changed us all. It has shown us that we are not entitled. It has shown us that ‘fairness’ is an ideal we are still some way from attaining. It has shown us our double standards. But it has also, hopefully, revealed to us what we would like the ‘new normal’ to be. It has brought out the worst but also the best in people. We can, collectively, make a difference.

So, when thinking about rebuilding ‘normal’, I hope we can take a supportive, open-minded, collaborative approach and make sure the status quo is something we can be proud of.


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