Why We Need To Embrace Our New Normal As Permanent

I have always loved the movie Wall-E. There is something so endearing about the little robot and its tiny little scooper that is so determined to clean a completely shattered world; How he goes through his day literally reorganizing dirt and collecting little treasures like Rubik’s cubes and rubber duckies, all while ending his day by indulging in the uplifting sounds of Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly”. Wall-E and Eva end up fighting the forces that be (better known as autopilot) against all odds to save humanity through a simple little sprout of green hope. Truly, if that movie doesn’t move you to tears every time you watch it, we need to have a conversation about feelings. I remember watching that movie for the first time. I was gearing up to start my master’s in social work, so my brain was in that liminal stage between having taken a semester off to reassess my life and preparing to return to a classroom and learn how to analyze people and things. After the first time I watched, I felt this deep connection to Wall-E, and his desperate need to fix the seemingly unfixable. The world depicted in the movie was plagued by real world realities such as our habit to depend on technology for self-preservation, and our selfish nature that leads us to ignore the world around us as long as we are comfortable, and our needs are met.

I have been spending my quarantine time doing some reflection and working on myself. My time is divided into homeschooling two children, working, starting my DEI facilitator partnership, reading, writing, and being incredibly aware of my health choices (because those quarantine snacks are mighty tempting). Some days are much better than others, and while by now I have been able to find some sort of new routine, I still go into mental spaces where the world feels like too much, so I shut it out for a little so I can quiet my mind. I have tried telling myself that this is just a temporary new normal… but is it temporary? Will we eventually go back to being able to go out and hug our family and friends, and life will return to normal? Or are we looking at a permanent shift in reality that is so overwhelming, that our brains go into immediate defense mode and blocks that from our minds?

And although there have been plenty of positives to come out of this quarantine period (communities helping our healthcare workers, reaching out and connecting with others we haven’t in a while, and even a positive environmental impact), we have been slowly redefining a new normal that threatens to be permanent, which is our ability to become complacent once we find an easy solution to an overwhelming problem. For example, Zoom has made this quarantine appear like the only limitations that we have for social interaction are physical. Albeit different in nature, when it comes to engagement, we find ourselves conducting business as usual. In fact, I have been able to connect with more people while being socially distanced in the past three weeks that I do on a regular basis. My 3.5 year old daughter asks if it’s time to see her school friends every time I open the computer, while my son now spends upwards to three hours a day in front of it watching videos and completing worksheets that are meant to teach him new material, so the school closing doesn’t negatively affect his ability to continue learning. We have managed to fully embrace technology as the savior in these times of social distancing and isolation.

Do you see now why I started this post by talking about Wall-E?

I was talking to some friends a week ago about what our world might look like post-pandemic. Eventually, we will be able to go back to our social spaces like work, schools, congregations, and resume the lives that we paused when this all started. However, those spaces will not be the same. The pandemic has caused job loss, economic downfall, food insecurity, mental health decline, loss of life… you name it, it has happened; and while this all will end at some point, our realities have permanently changed. Our new normal will not be temporary, but more permanent than we realize. We are all aware of this, mainly because the news is impossible to ignore (even if you are like me and stay far from the television during this time, it’s all over social media). Our challenge when this is over won’t be to resume life as if none of this happened, but to start a new life because all of this happened.

Back to Wall-E for a minute. The majority of the movie takes place aboard a space cruise that goes into orbit as a solution to a climate crisis on earth that resulted in it being inhabitable. The purpose of the space cruise is to keep humans away from earth so little robots like Wall-E can clean it up and robots like Eva can look for signs of life through plants. And while this space cruise is meant to be a temporary solution to a seemingly transient crisis, the years go by, and the people on it become fully accustomed to this new, easier, less challenging way of life; food is delivered to them in liquid form since it’s easier to consume than chewing, there are robots that will do everything for you, and even the weather is managed by the space cruise captain.

A space cruise is definitely not what we will be doing as a result of this pandemic (although I have to be honest, it sounds much better than starting week 4 of quarantine), but the theme is clear here: our reliance on self-preservation may keep us from addressing the challenges of this pandemic, even after its long gone. Our relationships will have changed, the needs of those around us will be different. We will have to leave this concept of self-preservation aside for the purpose of restoring a society that addresses the needs of all, rather than staying in this new, safer normal that we have created for ourselves. If we create a new normal for the purpose of adapting, rather than bridging our old normal with our new circumstances, the damage stays untouched. We need to be prepared to address the needs stemming from the economic downfall, the grief from those who will lose loved ones, and even the grief of losing our daily routine (and yes, you are completely within your right to grieve the loss of your basic freedoms during a pandemic). We will see an increase on mental health needs within our communities as a result of social distancing, and even potentially some PTSD about being able to be closer to other people after being told that close proximity can kill us.

We need to be ready to let go of our need for self-preservation when this is all over because it won’t be about us anymore. We will need to be that one person on the space cruise that fights their way through to save the tiny little plant just so we can break out of the bubble. And like Hello Dolly says, “it’s so nice to have you back where you belong”.


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