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Should we be aiming to get back to 'normal'?

Over the past 10 months, a phrase I've heard a lot is 'I can't wait until things get back to normal!'

For a lot of people, I understand why they would want this. Job losses combined with responsibilities means that returning back to normal is a lifeline – something which I'm very privileged to not need to yearn for.

But this story isn't about me challenging whether we should return to having jobs and being able to provide for ourselves and our families. This is about me questioning the version of the normal we want to return to.

When lockdown first kicked in, I felt as confused and isolated as the next person. When would I be able to see my family and friends again? When would I be able to get back to the gym or go to the cinema or go shopping again? When would I be able to simply walk into a different building than my home again without feeling like I was walking into a warzone?

With time though, my mindset started to change. As I wrote in my previous story, 'Lessons from lockdown', I started to better appreciate the nature of my life prior to lockdown: the people in it, the amount of time available to me and my own health and wellbeing.

It wasn't just the positives of my previous 'normal' I can now appreciate though. My time spent indoors has also made me aware of the negatives which, unfortunately, I think a lot of us have become accustomed to: spending vast amounts of time and money travelling to and from a job we don't like just so we can live from payslip to payslip. Stressing over meetings and end-of-day deadlines and the politics, under-handedness and pressure that comes with them. Enduring the noise and bustle of a city packed with people all experiencing the same thing.

All of this of course would take a major toll on our social lives: spending less time with the people you care about because you're mentally, physically and financially drained from a busy week. Fighting against growing concerns over your own health as you opt for fast food and a night in instead of a healthy cooked meal and a gym session because you just don't feel up to it. Finding weekends and evenings gradually diminish as seemingly more and more work needs to be impossibly crammed into a normal working week.

This is all without even mentioning the wider societal issues that continue to be on the back-burner. The (growing) chasm of inequality between upper, middle and working classes. The (ongoing) impact of our daily lives on our environment. And the shying away from major issues like structural racism and growing mental health concerns.

At least from my perspective, our previous normal is by no means something to romanticise and beg for its return. Instead it was something that we'd become accustomed to and simply accepted as the way life should be.

Like with any major change in our lives, it's all too easy to want to slip back into the comfort of what we know. But the way forward is almost always to adapt to our new circumstances and build something better than what we had.

With this all in mind then, shouldn't we be doing the same with this pandemic? Instead of 'I can't wait for things to go back to normal', shouldn't the phrase we use be 'I can't wait to build something better?'

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