Back to normal?

Do we really want to go back to the way things were?

“Won’t it be great when we can get back to normal?”

How often did you hear that as the COVID-19 virus disease has dragged on from what was originally thought would be a two-month outbreak to a full-blown, 18-month pandemic? The desire to “get back to normal” is so strong that many Canadian jurisdictions are hastening to reduce or even eliminate restrictions such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and travel. The Premier in Alberta, where I live, declared the pandemic under control with all restrictions to be lifted by August 17 so that “Alberta can get back to business as usual.” This while hospitals were still struggling to care for new and mostly younger COVID patients, and vaccine deniers and the vaccine hesitant represent about 30 percent of the population. Under pressure from the medical and educational communities, however, the Premier back-tracked and restrictions are now in place until September 27.

The root of the word normal is norm. A norm is a standard, a model or a moral principle. However, the way the word normal is mostly used makes it synonymous with regular or usual. The wish to “get back to normal” in terms of the pandemic is to get back to doing things the way they were before. There is no question that COVID has wreaked havoc with our usual way of doing things. Some of the “usual things” we couldn’t do were regrettable, especially when we could not be together and for those who lost their jobs, particularly among those in the lowest wage sectors. But what about many of the other “usual” things we want to get back to?

Do we want to get back to the usual practice of warehousing our seniors in crowded conditions served by underpaid caregivers who need to work several benefit-less jobs to make ends meet? How does that meet the definition of a norm as a moral principle?

Do we want our skies and oceans to be crowded again with planes and ships to serve the rich of the first world (Christians included) who feel entitled to travel incessantly for pleasure, irrespective of the air and water pollution that fuels the destruction of creation, and the hastening of global warming?

Do we want to return to an economy of continuous growth in a world of finite resources?

I’m sure that readers can add to the list of the many “usual” practices of late neo-capitalism that it would be unwise, or even unethical, to return to in the normative sense of the word normal.

We are called by Jesus to “love our neighbours as ourselves” and to care for the creation that our loving God has given us for a home.

If there is anything the current pandemic has shown us, it is that we should not and may not go back to the wasteful, exploitative “normal” of pre-pandemic life. It will take wisdom to chart a new course once the pandemic is truly over. Will we heed wisdom’s call or return to our usual, so-called normal ways?

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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