Monday 27 April 2020

Who needs normal?

A phrase I often hear these days is some version of “when we get back to normal.” I think I know what it means – a time when we don’t need to keep 6 feet between us; when we can use the parks and the trails; when we can meet one another, shake hands and share hugs without fear; when children can play with friends, people return to work, worshipers gather together. That’s a normal I think many would recognize.

But there are some parts of normal I wish we could banish, leave behind on the other side of March 15 (or whenever lockdown started in your community). We hear the voices calling for a “restart” to the economy. They aren’t as loud as south of the border, but they’re there. In the daily briefing a couple of days ago, a reporter asked the Premier, “Since the majority of COVID cases are localized in seniors’ facilities and particular communities, why can’t the rest of us get back to normal?” The response was a quite powerful reminder that the province entered this together, will go through this together, and will emerge together. But the sentiment is out there. People have published the calculations suggesting that the death and sickness rates are acceptable if things can go back to “normal”—meaning buying and selling. A number of provinces have (or have promised to) roll out their plans for spinning up the economy.

So, what’s on your list of “normal” that you want to work at and pray about and form community to resist?  Here are some of mine, in no particular order:
·       An unintended consequence of the economic slowdown seems to have been a degree of recovery for the rest of Creation. I imagine you’ve seen the photos of suddenly clear skylines or repopulated waterways and so on. I hope those aren’t all photo-shopped! While some level of revived economic and industrial activity is unavoidable, perhaps – having seen the dramatic effect lowering those levels can have – we can see that it is possible to make a difference and the Creation can be helped to heal;
·       We have seen the significant leadership being given by calm, thoughtful and courageous women, both a number of global national leaders and public health officials in Canada and abroad. I hope that demonstrated competence will affect a change in some knee-jerk reactions about who has the qualities to lead and a deeper degree of considered evaluation of all who are willing to offer leadership gifts;
·       I hope that what we have seen, both courageous and tragic, will help us continue to push back the privilege of the arrogant white male. Whether it has been reporters calling out politicians distorting facts in press briefings or our response to the shooting rampage in Nova Scotia, we’re seeing some “normal” or “excused” behaviours questioned. Why are we not calling it an act of terrorism, when it’s a white male at the centre of a historically awful swath of violence? Do we imagine, for a moment, that if the perpetrator were of another skin colour that the language of “domestic terrorism” would not be employed? Or, if we want to reserve the “terrorism” language for acts that are clearly ideologically motivated, why do so many insist on mental health language as opposed to acknowledging that this is one foreseeable consequence of society celebrating certain traits and ways of interacting?
·       I hope that, having seen it in action, we do not forget how possible it is for our country and provinces to move resources into caring for the most vulnerable.  The speed with which so many levels of government, business and not-for-profit made funds available is genuinely breath-taking. Programs that previously would have taken months if not years to see the light of day, came out the doors in hours. Certainly, they were imperfect and needed tweaking. But the attitude clearly was – there is a need, we need to act, we can fine tune later. When the need for greater fiscal probity reasserts itself how can we continue to remind governments and one another of what is possible, particularly for the marginalized, when the will exists?  The various forms of relief and support rolled out amount to a de facto guaranteed annual income. Having had the experiment, can we continue this as a means of fundamental economic justice?
·       We call them heroes now – I hope we remember those who we are feting in this moment who generally labour at impossibly low wages, cobbling together a variety of part-time underpaid positions, simply to eke out a living at or below a subsistence wage. Can we find the way to narrow the often-obscene gap between the pay to the CEO and the front-line employees? Can we continue to maintain the pressure on provincial regulatory bodies so that reasonable salaries and numbers of employees are available to care for the frailest of our brothers and sisters? Can we begin to shift our profit-fixation, that inevitably restrains or reduces the participation of front-line workers in the revenue generated by corporations? In a weird way I am grateful to those who have the courage to express the conviction that a few deaths are worth it to turn the economy back up. Not because I agree with them! But because they are declaring the operative prejudice of so much of our economy: the people exist to work and produce, rather than healthy, safe, meaningful and fulfilling work being one expression of human living. I hope we have learned that there truly is more to life than the jobs we do (when we have them) and we have a counter-narrative to those for whom the economic measures related to profit are the be all and end all.

So, what are some aspects of “normal” that you would like to change? I believe that an unanticipated benefit of COVID 19 is the opportunity to do a genuine reset on some of our behaviours and attitudes. Here are some questions to help you reflect.  Maybe you want to employ them with others to create coalitions for change where you live and work.
·       What do you not miss? Are there aspects of your previous pace of life that you want to change? For instance: travel, endless meetings; time away from family?
·       What have you noticed in yourself with the changed pace: more creativity, more peace, deeper connection or re-connection with people? 
·       Is your organization really conducive to the well-being of those who work in it? What needs to change to achieve that?
·       How do we alter the conversation? Here are some other change methods, based simply on altering the questions we pose:
o   What do I need to control?  What can I unleash?
o   Who can make this work?  What interactions will make this work?
o   How do I avoid resistance?  How do I welcome resistance?
o   How do I influence individual actions?  How do I influence the field (or culture)?
o   How can I create change?  How can I transform the energy that already exists in the system?*
We have the time to dream and pray about a new way of being.  What are you praying for?

*For more questions like these, see the TED talk by Kathleen Allen:

c2020 I. Ross Bartlett 

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