Thursday, 13 August, 2020
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OPINION

The Better Normal Life



Aashish Mishra

COVID-19 has unleashed a new phrase upon us – the new normal. Three simple words strung together and used by almost everyone, from politicians to diplomats to journalists to even friends and family. With no cure in sight and even the most promising vaccines at least a year away, this phrase has become a consolation of sorts; an inviting rhetoric that tells us that the current turbulence will end, that eventually life will settle back.
But we must be really careful about viewing our current state and the future that awaits through the lens of ‘the new normal’ because the term ‘normal’ often connotes something acceptable. But what is acceptable about living under the omnipresent threat of a contagious disease? What is acceptable about societies and countries sealing everything off and going into isolation? What is acceptable about people having to stay apart from their friends and families, feeling uncertain about their own loved ones carrying a deadly virus?
‘The new normal’ also tries to condition us to live under restrictions. Social distancing is essential, it says, and going out unless absolutely necessary is frowned upon. But how possible is that for most of us? The four-month-long lockdown drove so many people into poverty, took so many jobs, destroyed countless businesses and directly or indirectly caused more deaths than the coronavirus has till date. Those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy were put under so much pressure, and left without a safety net, that they literally killed themselves or starved to death. Incidences of domestic violence and unintended pregnancies rose and hundreds were stranded, rendered homeless and forced to brave long, arduous, unsafe journeys home.
‘The new normal’ does not work because there was never such a thing as an ‘old normal’. There was never a one-size-fits-all scenario in our society. This is why there cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy for living with the current pandemic. People’s sense of normalcy is based on their wealth, income, gender, ethnicity, disability, etc. Disregarding these factors and forcing everyone to adhere to a few set standards will exacerbate existing inequalities and foster the growth of new ones. Defining something as ‘normal’ will cast out those unable to meet those standards and label them ‘abnormal’. In this context, ‘the new normal’ will be an exclusionary manufactured principle with no previous foundation to stand on.
There is no denying that we will have to learn to live with COVID-19. But that learning should be on our own terms and based on our own life experiences. People have different realities which need to be taken into account.
For instance, in asking everyone to wear masks, we must consider that there are people who can’t afford to buy them. In telling people to wash their hands, we must spare a thought for those who do not even have clean water to drink. While suggesting people to work from home, we must explore what ‘work’ and ‘home’ actually mean.
The prospect of a new normal seems enticing. But it is a flawed concept from the get-go. There is no such a thing as one normal. There are, instead, multiple normals – all of which need to be analysed separately but interdependently. And as explained above, the newness that we are presently striving for is too morbid to be acceptable. So, let us drop the idea of ‘the new normal’ and instead bring forth the notion of ‘better normals’. 

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