We’ve now been plunged into the Covid-19 crisis for some six months. The complex health, economic, social, and political challenges brought on by the pandemic have left us drained, anxious, and uncertain. For those who have lost jobs, social connections, or worst of all, loved ones, words cannot describe their suffering.
Of course, we want to go back “to normal.” To travel, shop, eat out, and send our kids to school. We miss concerts and parties, public transportation without masks and the freedom to go places without having to provide our name, phone number, and address, just in case a fellow customer falls ill sometime in the next few weeks. Normal sounds magical.
For a moment, though, let’s consider how we might apply some insight gained from this crisis. What opportunities could Covid possibly offer us?
First, let’s acknowledge that our former way of life was inherently unsustainable. Our lifestyles were at odds with the environment. Consumption and travel were governed largely by desire, not by necessity. The ease of having Amazon deliver packages within a day reduced almost all barriers to shopping. Low-cost airlines often made it cheaper to fly than take a taxi to the airport. Who could resist those weekend getaways?
Second, let’s accept that many people – wildly successful people by measures of wealth, position, and prestige – felt their life lacked meaning. Many suffered from a sense of emptiness, futility, and failure to construct purpose in their lives.
Third, let’s stop ignoring the social and systemic health inequities that have resulted in the disease’s disproportionate impact on poor and marginalized communities. Common decency – let alone political stability and basic justice – demand that we take better care of one another.
Fourth, let’s admit that fighting Covid requires courage. Courage to face the underlying causes of the virus. Courage to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Courage to face uncertainty with even-handedness. Courage to make some much needed changes.
Given these insights, how might we construct a new normal that serves us all?
Covid forced us to become more conscious about each decision we make – when to go out, where to go, whom to see. We can become more mindful about other choices we make – what to buy, how much to buy, and why we feel the need to buy in the first place.
We can take stock of the values we want to live by, and the activities and priorities that will bring us greater meaning. Spending time working on the weekend or spending more time with family and friends. Doing whatever it takes to earn another promotion or launching passion projects that make the world a better place. Adding to a to do list or slowing down and better tending to our bodies and inner sense of calm.
Decision by decision, we can all build more meaningful lives. This is, of course, hard work and takes time. But we all have the capability to craft our lives to a much greater extent than many of us are doing. Through deep reflection, and a commitment to change, we can all shift to more meaning-centric ways of living.
It takes courage to ignore the consumption-focused, immediate gratification messaging of social media, the validation from the likes of “friends,” and being rewarded by systems that don’t speak to our deeper values and selves. But let’s be brave about making some fundamental changes.
To transcend this global crisis, the world is being called upon to reinvent itself. Likewise, in this period of transition, we can also begin transforming ourselves. Individually and collectively, we can steep our “new normal” in a different set of values.