What's normal in the wake of this pandemic?

"In the rush to return to normal, let’s use the time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to" (David Hollis)

We are now in week 7of the Covid 19 lockdown in the UK. Many countries in Europe, some of which have experienced more draconian lockdown measures than we have here, are starting, slowly but surely, to open up again, one step at a time. People across Spain, Italy, and France, which along with the UK have been amongst the worst hit during this pandemic, are taking tentative steps back into a world that, in just a couple of months, has experienced a radical shift in how things are done.

Here, the government is saying ‘not yet’ although there is pressure coming from all sides to ‘return to normal’, to get the economy going again, to set out a road map for getting us all back to work. Not everyone is so keen for normality to resume; a recent You Gov poll indicated that 4 out of every five Britons are anxious about going back out there. The government’s plea to ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ has been one of the most successful government campaign slogans since the Second World War. It will be challenging to change the message, and do it successfully.

In all of this apparent push to get back ‘to normal’ I can’t help but ask the question – what is normal? There are many others asking similar questions and sitting below that is the question – is going ‘back to normal’ really such a great idea? As Sonya Renee Taylor so beautifully puts it : ‘we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature’. The underlying message? Let’s not screw it up!

Sitting under this urgency to ‘return to normal’ is, I’m sure, an overwhelming discomfort with the uncertainty of the current situation; in many a zoom chat with friends and colleagues, the question ‘for how much longer will this situation continue’ is a key topic of discussion. Many people in my network are growing a little tired of their own four walls, and at the same time are uneasy about what comes next; as one teacher friend of mine comment recently – ‘we feel like we are collateral damage.’ Not knowing what comes next is the hardest part for many when going through any of form of change; some are far more comfortable with ambiguity and playing with possibilities than others, whilst some need certainty, dates, the reassurance of the detail.

What is apparent that even if we get some sort of roadmap this weekend on how the government plans to ease the lockdown over the coming weeks, much of may seem abstract and difficult to achieve. And the uncertainty that we are all experiencing is bound to persist for weeks, maybe some months ahead. It is at times like these that I think of Otto Scharmer’s concept of Theory U. The central tenet of Theory U is to allow for what emerges, without forcing it. Most of us (and in particular those of us who love to analyse) can find this notion of emergence a little uncomfortable. But one of the things I have learnt through my recent coaching supervision training is the importance of sitting comfortably with the idea of ‘not knowing’. Even when every sinew of your body is screaming to know!

Sitting with ‘open heart, open will, open mind’ creates a freedom to just be, and from my experience of working with Theory U, a better knowing emerges when it is ready, than when it is forced. So perhaps we could all benefit from a little of this right now. Some acceptance that uncertainty is inevitable, and some acceptance that not having all the answers just might lead us somewhere new, and not simply ‘back to normal’.

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