The New Normal

As I look back over the (almost) eight decades of my life, I realise that I have experienced a personal “new normal” many times, starting with the end of WWII. Nobody in 1945 thought the world was going to return to “pre-war normal”, but the general attitude was optimistic even among the defeated. In fact, the German Federal Republic was celebrating its Wirtschaftswunder less than fifteen years after being totally devastated.

I was too little to know what pre-war England had been like, but post-war it was already a very different place from what I had known in my first few years of life. Certainly my parents and grandparents had to adapt to the “Welfare State” and all its utopian promises of a brave new world as the economical and political jigsaw tried to fit itself together.

In my own microcosm, I had to find a “new normal” when I went away to university, far from the old familiar people and ways, but I was young and versatile. That versatility stood me in good stead when I discovered another kind of normal in 1960’s France, and even more so in 1960’s Germany: very different worlds from the one I had left behind on my island.

Returning to England at the end of that decade, I was startled by the changes the swinging sixties had wrought in my homeland – an unexpected adjustment. Then Geneva in the seventies was also yet another “newfoundland”. Scarcely had I accustomed myself to this way of life, when my path took another twist and I landed on a different cultural planet in eastern Switzerland, where my “normal” was viewed as extremely eccentric.

It’s not only culture shock and the geography that changed, though: over the past forty years, the whole world has lost its old “normal” mainly due to the rapid advance of technology. We have been constantly acclimatising to “new normal” year by year. 2020 has just seen a more rapid acceleration.

In the last few months I have frequently heard people wondering, “How would we have coped with COVID-19 if it had happened ten, twenty years ago?” that is, before virtually everyone had smart phones and laptops, and social media with all its apps was not yet sufficiently developed to allow us to work from home and still remain in contact with each other. It would have been a whole lot more difficult. My age gives me an advantage over the Millennials in that I am metaphorically on higher ground with a wider perspective.

We haven’t had enough time yet to form new habits and if things “re-open” too soon we will try to return to old ways that are no longer viable. That is particularly hard for those whose survival depends on their need to function in this strange new environment. Some are more adaptable than others, some get frustrated more easily, some are more “woke”, some are more tolerant, some are sad or angry bigots. Some are idealistic, some cynical.

I am optimistic notwithstanding. We have an opportunity to reshape our society, to use our awareness in a positive way to improve our own circumstances and the circumstances of the less fortunate. Possibly for the first time in modern history, we are all in the same boat wherever we are in the world. Are we, as “normal” human beings with all our inherent faults and virtues, capable of the altruism needed to seize this opportunity to escape from identity politics and start belonging instead of “othering”?

One thing that I do remember from my very earliest youth is that on the whole people stuck together and helped one another. We can’t wind the clock back, but our evolutionary programming surely means that instinctively we recognise that cooperation is essential to survival.


13 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. A great post and I will join in nurturing the good plant of hope. So much is now going on but the tides still keep rolling on, the birds keep flying but saplings of hope and future sometimes need an extra bit of watering. Your post did just that. Thank you.

  2. Some people think hope is deadly as it stops us from thinking of ways to confront to face a gathering storm. I understand the argument but still cling to hope. The hope that we find a way to confront the gathering storm. The German Wirtschatswunder had two parents. One was the will of the German people to work, the other was the will of the Western Allies to win Germany over for the confrontation with the Soviet Union. The fear of Communism was a great motivator. This fear collapsed with fall of the Berlin Wall. Globalism became the new normal. China, with its unlimited workforce, became the new frontier where money could be made. Now the West stares at a new normal, we raised a new colossus of whom we are afraid now. It might even be possible to cooperate with a new giant if we stop thinking he will act like we have done over the centuries.

    Thank you for your insightful post.

    • Thank you for your response, Peter. I have to admit that on going to live in Germany in 1963, I was amazed at how much more affluent it was than England or France. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, and wonder if – and how – there can be global collaboration strong enough to rise above self-interest.

      • You would think Climate Change would be the catalyst for global collaboration, the common enemy so to speak. But instead, countries pulling up the draw bridges and hide.

  3. Yes, I agree, this is a very insighful post. Cat, you say:
    ‘Are we, as “normal” human beings with all our inherent faults and virtues, capable of the altruism needed to seize this opportunity to escape from identity politics and start belonging instead of “othering”?
    Yes, and the sooner all of us recognise that ‘cooperation is essential to survival’ the better! 🙂

  4. What an excellent essay, Catherine. I have heard lots of fuss and worry about the children. Oh the children will be scared and fearful, etc. But the younger they are, the less kids realize that things aren’t “normal.” Kids are in the habit of adapting on a daily basis, so it really isn’t that hard for them. But they do take their cues from the adults around them and if those adults’ hair is on fire, the kids may well get burned.

    I wonder if this had happened before the presence of instant social media content, perhaps the rebellious virus deniers and anti-maskers would be in a greater minority and be tolerated less, and spread their personal virus less. This is a real issue here in America. Too many people have had “individual freedom” drilled into their heads here and these folks simply can’t fathom a small sacrifice for the good of the community. These are people who would never have survived WWI or WWII because they are too involved with their own importance.

    • I think social media has a lot to answer for – I’m very glad it wasn’t available to Joseph Goebbels for instance! Like so many things, it’s a two-edged sword. But I really don’t understand people who refuse masks on the basis that they infringe their rights. If I’m going to ride on a roller-coaters, I want to be strapped in!

      • I know. It’s crazy. They accept that they have to wear pants and seat belts. But for some reason they go nuts over masks. During the war people went without FOOD to support the war effort. Such pantywaists.

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