By Janel Saydam
I am optimistic that the pandemic is providing an opportunity for us to reassess our values and aspire for a more sustainable future where we understand that our health is dependent on the health of the planet. Personally, I am not looking forward to going back to normal. I feel that this pandemic is forcing us to take a good hard look at ourselves and our values as a society. We’re used to working hard now to attain joy through consumption in the future. This pandemic has created doubt in what our image of the future will look like and has pushed us to find joy and meaning in the here and now.
Our health is dependent on the health of the planet. If we continue business as usual and go back to the way things were, then the future of our species will be an unhealthy one. The challenges that we are facing with COVID-19 will be nothing compared to those of the future if we “go back to normal”. This pandemic is us—with very important questions about what our priorities are and what is truly necessary to live a meaningful life.
In our normal world, here and now is hard work, and the future is hopefully the fruits of our labour.
Work hard now, and I’ll go to an all-inclusive in Mexico. Over-stress myself now and I’ll unwind on a cruise ship. Work hard today and I’ll play with that jet-ski tomorrow. This is the mindset of our western capitalist society; and it fuels productivity and growth while degrading the health of the planet. The day-by-day uncertainty created by this pandemic is pushing us to shift our focus from the future to here and now. We can no longer rely on the future to bring us happiness, so we might as well search for it in what’s available to us right now. From what I’ve been hearing, we are looking for this in the family, community, and nature directly around us.
Take for example some of the stories that we have been seeing about the resurgence of wildlife around us in our absence. There are stories of people hearing more birds than ever before, dolphins showing up in strange places, and an overall louder and brighter buzz to the natural world. Are animals really increasing in their number and behaviour? Or have we just been given more time and patience to notice the beauty of the natural world that’s been next to us the whole time? Maybe it’s a bit of both, but it is clear this pandemic is helping us to appreciate the world around us more than we have before. The more that we value the environment close to our homes, the more we care to protect it. If we keep this mindset, then we will live more meaningful and connected lives here and now without counting on needless consumption in the future. This is a major shift in our collective consciousness that can be harnessed to create a healthier planet and more meaningful lives. This is what I hope our new normal looks like.