ABCs to a new normal

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The new normal is definitely new but not normal. We all sense that it will never be the old normal. And, yes, it will be new but we do not yet know how it will look like. We say new normal but people are unable to describe it, just some of its parts. We have an idea about some characteristics but not enough to give a good definition. That means we are just about to build the new normal with lots of misgivings on how to go about it.

Consider health-related issues. The new normal includes our living with a still active Covid-19 virus in the environment. For how long will depend if or when medical science can come up with cures or vaccines that can effectively control and contain Covid-19. Without a guaranteed level of predictability and safety, we will continue to be fearful of the virus wherever we are, whenever we breathe, and with whatever we touch.

Imagine that scenario when we want to move around. In an active society, that can be from walking to mass transport. All kinds of new guidelines or regulations will be put in place over and above social distancing in the transport industry – most of which will impact on how we move around. The more limited or controlled they are, the closer we are to quarantine conditions. That makes it neither the old or the new normal, just somewhere in between.

The guiding objective appears to be to lower the risk of infection while Covid-19 is still around. Considering that the virus is primarily a transmission from human to human, we have to design a lifestyle that is cautious about physical human-to-human dynamics. Basically, crowds become a risky proposition. Yet, crowds mean workplaces, malls, stores, restaurants, public markets, transport terminals, and most of all, schools. The more unsafe we feel, the more threatened we will feel inside crowded places.

It was already the norm to factor in safety in work, in school, in public spaces. The new normal will demand a higher level of that. That translates to new health guidelines and legal regulations for those who own or manage properties where people converge. How will business operationalize that in daily operations? We do know that many will move portions of their employees to a “Home From Work” (HFW) arrangement. That in itself will teach business new things which ultimately will evolve new ways of conducting business. How, then, will new working conditions impact on the number of employees in each business. Will there be a need to increase or decrease their workforce?

It becomes obvious that heightened health considerations will impose new work conditions – from physical setups, operational procedures, and employment numbers. Health segues to economics and develops a radically different environment.

For one thing, key lessons were given by the intense Covid-19 lockdown. These lessons, by the way, were not new. They are as old as time as far as humans are concerned but largely forgotten and devalued in the modern times we live in. We have always known that the fundamental requirements to sustain human life are the elements – earth, air, water. Still, we took them for granted in the drive to create new things and new ways. Covid-19 and quarantine remind us that these fundamental requirements are non-negotiable, that we should return them to their rightful places in the human hierarchy of values.

I am reminded by the basic definition of economics as we were taught from school, which is:

“Economy means the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.”

Wealth and resources refer mostly to goods and services, to production and consumption, NOT money. Yet, in the evolution of matching production and consumption of needed goods and services, money as the key facilitator began a long but steady ascendancy. Today, money has become our highest value, more important than food, clean air and water, and even the goods and services whose movements it is only meant to facilitate. Forced now by circumstance to understand that we cannot eat, breathe, and drink money will and should definitely jolt established economic value systems.

The ironic part is that health and the economy refer primarily to human beings and human communities. Again, nothing new but often relegated to second or third place, and definitely, way below the value of money. Covid-19 demands that human communities as the basic unit of society must reflect on elevating themselves in value by protecting their health and their economy. Humans are the producers of goods and services, including designing and directing machines to enhance their capacities. Human communities, then, must redesign their daily lives around their health and economic needs and be self-sufficient as possible – a consciousness of self-reliance. The government and big business would do well to promote and encourage this direction because what is good for basic units is good for the whole.

The emerging consciousness well before Covid-19 had already indicated, through technological advances and the birth of cryptocurrencies that the younger generations, that centralized power, and authority do not serve their impulses. Rather, these impulses say “I can do it” rather than “power (authority) can do it”, reflecting the growing dynamism of human creative juices. The herd mentality is slowly but steadily morphing to a free, unfettered, and very creative decision-making environment.

If we are to knowingly plan and build the next new normal, we might as well do it with a value system that is more attuned to essential needs rather than those artificially conditioned. Covid-19 teaches us to be resilient. That begins with the security of survival, with food production and availability, with health, with cooperative social relations, with resourcefulness and creative endeavors. Nowhere in the list is the tradition of dependency, herd mentality, of being burdens to society. And I can only pray that those in power will open the way for a new beginning.

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