Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to a much-hyped message that sought to present the experience that we are having during these days of Coronavirus as some kind of new normal that we might have to adjust ourselves too. The speaker seemed to assume that the listener had lost a fair amount but also gained a fair amount too and would be in a position to reflect upon the trade-offs that result from such matters in their lives. As is frequently the case, I found that the speaker did not seem to address my own personal situation and his assumption that everyone had drastic changes that had resulted from their experiences during this time of pandemic is far off base. And it struck me that it would be worthwhile to talk about how this is the case even in one of those states that is not particularly close to opening up thanks to our “progressive” political leadership. Given that I still go to work, even if I am a skeleton crew, and still have more or less the same habits beyond a couple of exceptions, my life has not dramatically changed as a result of the Cornavirus pandemic, and that of some people I know has changed even less.
There are several groups of people who can say that their new normal is a close approximation of the old normal. Some of those are people like me whose work life has not changed, whose eating habits have not changed, and who have not been able to dine in at restaurants or go to the library or fellowship in person with brethren, but who otherwise find life to be largely the same apart from the large number of people who one sees wearing facemasks more or less ineptly and seeing the streets far more empty than was previously the case, even if one is not driving far from home (nor tended to much anyway). Still other people who find that the have tended to be homebodies and have not found that to change when there have been stay at home orders. Still other people have lived lives of great privation and struggle and likely have not found that to change. That is not to say that there are not many people whose lives have dramatically changed, those who work from home instead of going to work, those who find that they or their children are no longer able to go to school or those who have lost their jobs as a result of the economic contraction resulting from the response to the pandemic, but it is more to the point that one cannot assume that everyone has personally and dramatically been affected by the pandemic in their normal day-to-day lives or possess more time than they did before.
To what extent is empathy important when it comes to dealing with times like these? Just yesterday, for example, there was a church-wide fast called before the approaching General Conference of Elders meeting (to be done remotely this year), something that is not particularly uncommon as this time of year is certainly one where fasts are called when there are larger issues to be dealt with. The contemporary Coronavirus crisis has made it more difficult for people to reach out to help others because of their own fear and uncertainty about their own income and standard of living. And that makes it more difficult for those areas of the world which struggle to support themselves even in good times, much less more difficult times. I hope at least that something may be done on behalf of those who are struggling in these times. Yet at the same time, it would make sense that just as I wish others would ponder the sort of experience that I have, which often tends to be unusual or different, it is often important for me to remember that my own experiences require a sense of compassion for those whose experiences are obviously far different from my own.
What is it that makes something a new normal? The situation that the current pandemic most remembers in terms of its social response (if not its deaths) is that of the 1918 flu pandemic which killed somewhere around 50 million people worldwide. To put that in context, the contemporary Coronavirus pandemic, while it has been horrific in places like New York and Wuhan and parts of Europe, has killed less than 100 people in Oregon thus far. And while the death toll of this illness was immense, it was quickly forgotten within society at large, which went on to the roaring twenties and a period of considerable wildness. Yet while the economic effects of the 1918 pandemic were short-term and limited, and the return to normalcy was successful in the short-term, the Great Depression of 1929, largely thanks to the maladroit response of governments adopting controlling policies and beggar-thy-neighbor approaches ended up making the Great Depression the new normal in many countries around the world for a period of many years. The behavior of governments, especially on the state level, with regards to the contemporary pandemic does not inspire confidence should there be a prolonged economic downturn. But whether or not this is a new normal or a temporary if alarming blip will only be obvious in time.