Thursday, May 21, 2020

Post-Corona Living and Learning

On April 5 I wrote "Wondering about 'normal.'" I wondered a lot because we were early enough in the "unprecedented times" that all most of us could was wonder. I still wonder about a lot of the same things.

I wonder how many of us are and will be more traumatized than we realize as we gauge the distance between us and strangers, as we find ourselves counting cars in a parking lot, as we pause for that split second if we happen to cough to assess how our lungs feel. I wonder how much our social attitudes and behaviors will change and what will really be most important.

I wonder how many of us are thinking about the nature of our relationships and, if we don't have much family, how much we counted on work colleagues and even moderately good friends with whom we used to get together periodically. I wonder how much more effort many of us are making to connect in various ways--social media, texts, email, even letters.

I wonder if we'll be able to see the world differently because the pandemic is affecting the world. I wonder if we'll be able to see beyond our borders differently, if there's a chance we can all be more compassionate or if we'll find that even more of us will be victimized by the power players who think only about the themselves and how much power and money they can grab because of other people's misery.

I want to have faith in people and our ability to connect, be empathetic, be compassionate, but too much of what I read seems to be about those who are grabbing for headlines, grabbing for power, grabbing to shape the world in whatever narrow way they see it, which is one of the reasons I read less news and tend to skim a lot of the stories I read regardless of the source.

I wonder if we really have an idea of what "normal" is or if what we think we want is whatever was before and that we'll consider normal to be whatever comes after, but I wonder if we realize that whatever happens after and whatever we become and do and are after will never, ever be like what was before. That normal will be different, no matter what.

Then in this space, on April 8, I asked why anyone would want to go back to whatever they consider "normal." My focus was on teachers and the incredible work so many were doing to make adjustments. Sure, not all of them were being successful and many parents were still flummoxed, exasperated, and extra-exhausted. 

A friend of mine fumed that her high school sophomore was getting no writing assignments in his English class. I saw an article in our local paper about the parent of a fourth grader was incensed and exhausted that there were multiple assignments in the same subject area due on the same day, and that her second grader was being expected to build a bridge using cardboard, duct tape, and printer paper that could hold a dictionary. The teacher, in this case, blithely assuming, that all of those items would be available in the house.

Sonya Renee Taylor said what a lot of us are thinking. (NOTE: This quote has been attributed to Brené Brown; she has asked any of us using this quote to be sure to attribute it correctly). Having learned more about Ms. Taylor, this quote is even more powerful.

And so I ask again, why would we want to go back to whatever we think was "normal"? Why wouldn't we want to take advantage of this situation, this incredible opportunity to re-invent?

Why wouldn't we want to seek out the possibilities that inevitably grow out these situations of impossibilities? Yes, we discover our weaknesses but we also discover our strengths.

We aren't just stepping out of our comfort zones. We have been picked up and hurled out of our comfort zones. Some of us have picked ourselves up, brushed ourselves off, squared our shoulders and said, "Okay. That's how it's gonna be? Let's do this."

Others of us have curled up and whimpered, begging for what was because we prefer our comfort zones because they were familiar and comfortable. . . to us.

Many of us want to be resilient, brave, inventive, and bold, but have what we consider legitimate reasons, fears, barriers, and challenges for hesitating.

This has to do with recognizing that what was before we locked down, worked from home, and stayed in place was not perfect, not ideal, not comfortable for a great many, not what most of us would really want as "normal" for the world. But it was easier to insulate ourselves from others in myriad ways to protect ourselves, our families, and our friends from whatever foes we believed exist and existed.

Rather than go back, let's redefine what normal could be and here I would want to focus only on schools and learning because I haven't the knowledge nor experience to attempt to address most other issues.

I've been reading what a lot of prognosticators are saying about what school will be or should be, and I'm distilling that mountain of writing to something I can better understand and will share it with you soon.

In the mean time, contemplate what you would like your "normal" to be once we are free to move about the country (with a nod to Southwest Airlines), or even around our neighborhoods. I want to think about how I want to behave when I'm with others at a restaurant, at a movie theater, or any place where there are other people because, in pre-corona land, we also normalized that it was perfectly okay to be selfish and self-centered.

In the mean time, I hope we imagine what we could and should do differently to help make our post-corona worlds better places, even knowing that there are those who will not want change, who will mock us for wanting to improve, and who will insist on doing what they can to halt or destroy any changes.

But hope can lead to opportunities for change as well as the realization that the status quo is in fact best. It takes wisdom to know the difference, as we well know from the serenity prayer, and it takes wisdom and willingness to change to embrace the possibilities for growth and learning.

Let us stitch a new garment.