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There’s a lot of talk about how soon things will get back to “normal.”
This talk can be philosophical, if we consider the meaning of “normal.” Does it vary from person to person? Was that normal we long for OK — for everyone? Was it the best we could do? Can we improve on the notion and experience?
Such discussions can go in myriad directions. The underlying commonality is a desire to regain some of the things we lost when the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives. Each of us has been touched in some way. The pandemic continues to bring unwanted, scary changes and it seems like it won’t go away.
At times, I feel helpless to have any sort of impact — at least, not by myself. When I long for “normal,” it’s a way to avoid hopelessness. Ultimately, I find myself admitting few if any will see a complete return to the way things were prior to COVID-19. At best, I believe I might eventually be less conscious of how I measure time in terms of Before and After Pandemic.
For many of us, such a prominent change repeatedly challenges a particularly vulnerable part of our brains: the amygdala. We learned in high school science that the amygdala responds to change with mistrust and even fear, triggering a desire to fight or flee change.
Eventually, other parts of our brain kick in. We assess the true nature and potential impact of changes and formulate more rational responses.
But that initial anxiety isn’t necessarily wrong. We feel called to resist or hide largely because change rarely is 100 percent perfect.
Let’s say you’re offered your dream job. That’s an amazing, welcome change, right? Of course. However, it also requires you accept losses, too, such as leaving comfortable routines and beloved coworkers. You’ll also experience the uncertainty of newness and might need to prove yourself to strangers.
Likewise, painful and difficult changes can have positive effects. It’s often difficult to acknowledge this idea; we don’t want to imply good things were worth the sacrifices. Instead, acknowledging such elements is more about grieving and managing difficulties.
For many months and years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., we wondered when things would get back to “normal.” A common desire was to once again cross North America’s borders without passports. Another was to lessen security and surveillance protocols in businesses and stores.
Instead, such measures and many others became our new normal. As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we also have a generation that only knows “The War on Terror.” Likewise, their world has always been a place where people of Arab descent and followers of Islam are at a drastically heightened risk of hate crimes and discrimination.
We have an opportunity to consciously shape the sort of post-pandemic “normal” we’ll create. We can acknowledge that we need each other. We can learn from our mistakes. We can normalize things like inclusion, proactive communities, equity and properly funded public organizations. We can work together. We can develop systems and plans for managing potential changes in the future.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com