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GREG HARTON: What will 'normal' look like?

by Greg Harton | May 3, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

The "new normal" is the phrase I've grown most tired of in the midst of this virus response.

Once upon a time, I liked the phrase. It reflected the semi-permanent

nature of changes arising from some disruption to the way we work or live. The Apple iPhone, to use a technological example, changed our lives so dramatically and thoroughly that there's no going back.

But we're in the midst of a public health crisis that will go down in the record books as an extraordinarily rare event. Our behaviors at the height of this crisis are hardly a new normal.

Does anyone expect that, say, two or three years from now, we'll all still be wearing masks daily or making sure we're standing at least 6 feet away from the customer ahead of us in the checkout line? All that would be more accurately called the new abnormal. None of it will linger once we have covid-19 licked.

The temporary suspension of activities, ranging from team sports to how we shop to whether we can get a haircut, is the disruption, not a redefinition of how we live.

Indeed, Arkansans are champing at the bit to get back to "normal," hoping Gov. Asa Hutchinson's piece-by-piece reopening of restaurants, shops and services will march the state toward the old normal. Getting back to normal will take a while, and along the way we'll learn what some of the lasting effects to our lives might be.

Disruption creates opportunities for people or organizations who don't much care for what so far has been considered "normal," and they'd like to retool the future into something that fits their own definition of the term. It opens the door for redefining societal norms or expectations. Upheaval -- whether it's a civil war or civil rights or rock 'n' roll or the "hippie" culture -- is nothing if not a chance to retool what's viewed as "normal."

That can be good. And it can be dangerous.

The 1930s in Germany were all about defining a new normal. That didn't turn out so well.

But the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s? That transformed a nation, if not the world.

People want new normals to match the characteristics they find desirable. Or they fear a new normal in which someone else's characteristics win out. Is it "Change we can believe in" (2008 Obama) or "Make America Great Again" (2016 Trump)?

What can we count on being part of our "new normal?"

A few of my ideas or suggestion would include a greater appreciation for the opportunity to spend face-to-face time with older folks, the people who built the world we live and work in today.

Or maybe companies reticent to embrace the benefits of remote workers will, as a result of this forced dispersal of staff, begin to recognize the practice has some benefits.

Perhaps wait staff at restaurants will, by the government and by patrons, be treated more as professionals who ought to be paid well enough that their work can be viewed as a career rather than one of the several jobs they hold down to earn enough to pay the bills.

We might emerge with a lasting appreciation for the outdoors, spending time with family and friends in the real world. Arkansas is certainly an outstanding state to live in if venturing into nature is high on one's list of things to do. It's healthy, something more Arkansans (including me) need to pursue. Covid-19 may be a deadly virus that spreads easily, but when it's gone, we'll still have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity we really should face up to.

Will it make anyone feel any better if they die from any of those more chronic health conditions rather than covid-19?

Commentary on 05/03/2020

Print Headline: What will 'normal' look like?


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