During a recent live radio interview I had with host Gianna Volpe on WLIW (NPR’s Long Island affiliate), one of several topics we discussed was the challenges associated with transitioning from “what was,” to what now is being referred to as the “new normal.”

I willingly shared with her and listeners some of the unanticipated struggles I’d encountered in the immediate weeks after the Covid-19 crisis became front and center here in the U.S.  

Though a significant portion of the stress and anxiety I’d been experiencing was clearly self-induced by literally running every possible scenario through my mind, I do attribute some of it to the direct correlation I’d long made between my vocation and my self-worth. 

When we define ourselves and become wholly invested in a particular career path, there’s a significant piece to our “personal puzzle” that becomes glaringly absent, and consequently, we tend to suffer greatly for it, as I most certainly had. 

In essence, what’s being implied is that once we’ve bought into the concept that our primary occupation be linked to our perceived self-worth, we’ve then conceded our value to society when we are no longer able to fulfill those commitments and produce under the previous paradigm. For tens of millions of Americans (and exponentially more abroad), this ineffectual sense of self-value has created a massive disconnect, with countless new cases of depression being reported since the onset of this global pandemic.

In a recent piece appearing in The Atlantic magazine titled, “There’s No Going Back to Normal,” public theologian Ekemini Uwan states a reality that only some have reluctantly begun to embrace. “It is a hard truth to swallow but ‘there won’t be a return to ‘normal.’ I would argue that much about our former life was actually abnormal — its frenetic pace, its inequalities, and its injustices.” 

She later adds, “In this movement, I see signs that parts of society are beginning to look more to the future and less to reclaiming an old way of life. In thinking about the tension between the past, the present, and the future, I have come to believe that the only way to move forward is to grieve the life we once knew, and to shift our mindsets to radical acceptance of our present reality in order to create a new normal that is better than our pre-pandemic life.”

I completely agree with this line of thinking, though I know many take a more short-sighted approach, viewing this time as nothing more than a temporary and inconvenient social/physical impediment, that once we’ve begun to turn the corner on beating this virus and restrictions are eventually lifted, that we can return to the way things were pre-pandemic. For so many reasons, I know that we as a nation are capable of doing much better.

Once we’ve made it beyond the need for such regulated isolation in public spaces, fundamentally, there are myriad long-term, overdue issues that need to be addressed if our republic truly stands a chance at survival. Racial injustice, gender inequality, an inclusive immigration policy, and restoring environmental protections are but a few that top the list. By seizing this moment, this “new normal,” the U.S. has the chance to create a more respectful and equitable system for all of its citizens.

And clearly, as we make the shifts necessary in order to create these new paradigms, the seeds of change can flourish in ways they were never previously conceived. Just as the pharmaceutical and personal protection equipment manufacturers and diversified medical companies have found ways to collaborate throughout this crisis, so too are there ways in which communities can come together to address their localized needs. 

I would agree with renowned author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s perspective on the subject when he makes the following salient observation in a recent appearance on Munk Dialogue’s YouTube channel: “One of the beautiful things that come out of crises like this are the opportunities to experiment. There are numerous examples of a willingness to try new ideas.” 

Let us not become so overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation that we squander those tangible opportunities to become not only a better community, but a better nation. 

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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