Waiting for the New Normal

We are waiting for things to go back to normal; or maybe, not exactly how they were, but a slightly different set of routines and expectations, the “new normal”. The pandemic has stressed everyone, whether or not loved ones have been lost; many people have lost jobs and have had to switch to something new. Many have volunteered to help in the health crisis, with all the attendant strains. We are tired of it and want our old lives back. But will that happen?

I was shocked to discover a few days ago that one of the most common ways of thinking about the world was completely new to me: VUCA. It is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, originating in the US from business and military strategy, it suggests the world is getting harder to predict and understand because things keep changing in complex ways. Have things really changed or is it just that we have more sophisticated ways of looking at them? I don’t know, but it seems to strike a chord with many people. It suggests that any new normal will not be straightforward.

I grew up in the post-war world dominated by the danger of nuclear war and the conflict of values between capitalism and communism. The planet was expected just to chug along – we didn’t know much about plate tectonics or greenhouse gases. After the collapse of the USSR in the early 90’s, for a while things seemed to be settling down to a new global normal. But the rumblings of climate change have got louder and louder, then there was the Wall Street housing finance crash and then the pandemic threw us into a spin. It does all seem to be changing too fast.

We want stability and predictability but we seem to be in “exciting times.” Can we transition to a sustainable world, in which most people are safe enough and have their needs met, without too much fighting, without too much loss? I am not sure but I hope we can. A lot rides on that word “hope.” We undoubtedly need it, but it has to be intelligent hope, based on the reality of what we can achieve. We have seen how bioscience has achieved minor miracles to vaccinate us quickly. We need many other scientific breakthroughs in food, materials, energy, and transport. We also need leadership, vision, and solidarity. We need good people to share their visions of how we can create a new world. It won’t be the old normal. It has to be better.

Written by:
Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist
SACAC Counselling