Covid-19 – to give its proper name – has closed down the world. In fact, some of the commentary around us suggests that our lives will never be the same again – we may even lose some things we’d taken for granted as everyday. The other phrase that is kicked around the media airwaves is “the new normal”. What our society will look like on the other side of this pandemic is still – in some senses – a blank canvas.
I was thinking about those two things and thought “good.” There are some things that might benefit our society if they’re never seen again. But this strange time we live in is revealing some things I’d like to keep. The first one was real heroes being celebrated.
Here’s another one …
Bringing back a focus others is going to be hard, mainly because what it will need to replace is as invasive as that weed in your lawn that just keeps coming back despite your best efforts to nuke it.
BCV (Before Corona Virus) we really did seem to be a society that was totally in love with itself. Photography in 2019 had reached the point where the lens pointed at the photographer, who tried to position the background – and the rest of the world – to fit in behind them. A fitting image.
All commentary in the public space seemed to come back to how it impacted the individual. Social media was filled with a lot of talk, but very little listening.
Advertising trumpeted that customers “deserved” whatever the product was – ranging from skin care and shampoo to car servicing and septic tank flushing. The media kept stoking the fire by making every issue a threat to the individual. Their reality TV shows didn’t so much show us the selfishness of the selfish. Rather, they peeled back the top layer of humanity to find the everyday person could be quite self-focussed with the fifteen minutes of fame granted by the camera.
Victims of narcissism seemed to be piling up everywhere – kids abandoned by parents, relationships ignored in the soft light reflected from a phone screen. Baby Boomers spending the inheritance on cruises because they “deserved it”. Community organisations struggling for volunteers as no-one had time for them. Political decisions for the many were made by the selfish views of the few. Complex global issues were boiled down in some people’s heads to “I don’t mind a bit of climate change as I’ve never liked the cold.”
It seemed to me that living your “best life” meant getting what we best for you. (I even explored this in a new short story I’ve written called “The Church of Saint Thomas” – subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like a free copy).
So, back to Covid-19.
I’ve been really heartened during this pandemic to see the number of people who are reaching out to others. The posts that have changed from “me doing my stuff in my world” to something I want to share to help people feel happy or make the time go faster if they’re in lockdown. Maybe it’s because we’re all self-conscious about taking selfies in our pyjamas rather than at a party, but I’m heartened by the other-focus I’m seeing more and more in social media.
Don’t get me wrong – there are still people desperate for attention by talking about how a global pandemic affects them – that clip by Madonna was just mind-blowing in its self-centredness – but I’m seeing less of them. Sure, there are still people who will always be about themselves – there will always be people like that.
We’ve seen neighbors shopping for the people in their community, and even some examples of community gardens feeding a whole number of families. We’ve seen people sacrificing their own happiness to abide by stay-at-home orders so the wider community can benefit. (That’s notwithstanding the usual 1% of idiots who want to go out because, you know, reasons. In Australia, you can see those idiots on the beaches in the middle of a lockdown because, to quote one particular moron “the kids needed to get out and the beach is a public place.”)
In fact, at the start of this pandemic we saw the first ray of “other-mindedness” sunshine. The Australian media seemed to carry two stories: one about the unfolding threat of a Coronavirus, and the other keeping us up-to-date with a God-awful reality TV called Married at First Sight. (Don’t Google it, you’ll somehow end up dumber than you were before you read about it.) The public discourse at the juxtaposition of these two articles was interesting – people pushing back on a reality TV show as being pointless and not a good look for humanity while people got sick and died. Maybe in the midst of a real problem we started to see reality TV and narcissism for what it was, and is: ugly.
So in this pandemic, it has been nice to hear of families playing board games or listening to music together. Even the simple act of talking or having dinner together is heartening. Other-mindedness appears to be fighting back, and that’s something I never thought would happen back in January 2020 (Month One BCV).
I genuinely hope that once the pandemic is gone we continue that, and we pitch in and help those who genuinely need it. I’m a realist, so I know that selfishness is part of the human condition, but I hope the balance swings back and that other-mindedness continues, but it will need some help as killing narcissism ain’t going to be easy. Maybe if we don’t return to a society that worships itself, and encourages its adherents to celebrate the individual because it “deserves it”.
So I’d like to add a focus on others to my wishlist for the new normal. I genuinely hope that rampant narcissism is a casualty of the global virus. That we can see how damaging it was becoming, and that we don’t want to go back to it.
What do you think? Is a focus on others something you’d like to see in this new normal?