Could “the new normal” after Covid-19 become more normal than the previous world?

Two students and two adults sitting in plastic chairs in the yard, listening to a radio lessons from a small radio hanged on tree branch and writing in their exercise books.
Learners are continuing their studies via radio lessons in Kalobeyi refugee settlement in Kenya during the Covid-19-pandemic. A weekly timetable is shared with the learners on WhatsApp. FCA has distributed solar powered radios to students in the Northern parts of Kenya. Photo: FCA.

By now, we all speak “covid” fluently. As with any recently learned language, it makes at times sense to reflect what we are saying. Everyone agrees that the post-covid world will not be the same as the world before. We speak of it as a central, neutral-sounding concept that we call “the new normal”.

Speaking about the new normal is meant to help people adjust to a new reality. Because this is a global crisis, all countries are affected in one way or another. There is a readiness to accept many profound changes to our lives, though in some countries this is much more painful than in others.

As professionals working with development cooperation and humanitarian interventions, we use the word ‘resilience’ to describe how societies can react to a crisis. Resilience can be understood as the ability of individuals, communities and countries to cope with and recover from shocks.

In simple terms, resilience is “the capacity to bounce back”. Humanitarians talk of “building back better” – not only bouncing back to what once was but actually improving it by bouncing forward.

Inequality, emissions and exclusion were never supposed to be normal

The question is: what will Covid-19 pressure us to do? This is what defines the new normal.

I am wondering though about the word “normal”. Many things that used to be normal before Covid-19 were never supposed to be normal at all. Poverty in an insanely rich world is not normal – the world’s 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 per cent.

Travelling from point a to b with connecting flights that use double the fuel is cheaper than taking a direct flight. Excluding large groups of people from political decision-making can still be called democracy. Accepting that a member of the UN Security Council openly participates in violent conflict seems to be possible.

With most countries being in financial difficulties in a post-covid world, tough choices need to be made on how we rebuild better societies than before. The debate on what needs to be done is only starting, with the world not having any precedents for ‘collectively pulling the emergency stop’.

The core of the Covid-19 response: leave no one behind

What can help us in this debate?

We should, for example, stop talking about humans as animals (herd immunity). We must focus on how we as humans collectively can overcome Covid-19 by valuing human dignity and every human life, using, for example, the principle of leaving no one behind.

For FCA, it means that we adjust our programming, and push the boundary even further. We – as well as others – learn that digitalization can indeed be a programme enabler, may it be reaching out through socially distant town halls or enable distant learning through ‘Interactive Audio Instruction’.

We indeed stay socially close and engaged and care for one another – physically distant can still be socially close.
We certainly need to ensure that the “new normal” is bouncing us forward collectively and globally, rather than allowing questionable political decisions to be labelled as normal and justifiable.

We need to avoid bouncing back to the ‘old normal’ or even below it.

This mindset helps us to deal with current disruptions on a massive scale and also to prepare for future disruptions. Distance learning capabilities may become so normal that blended learning is globally taken to a totally new level that also works during the next disruption.

Perhaps one of the better things about speaking covid fluently is the “stay home, save lives” idea. People have gotten used to the thought that they have to restrict their own lives – not so much because of being in danger themselves, but especially to protect others, particularly risk groups.

The principle of leaving no one behind is indeed at the core of the Covid-19 response. As an idea, it has the potential to inform a beautiful and altruistic new normal.

The author, Matthias Wevelsiep, works as Senior Operations and Program Manager for the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers Secretariat.