OP-ED: Let’s Not Throw Away What We’ve Gained – A Thought on 2020

Hello readers! Just a quick thought post here to finish off the month. A sort of combination “look back” along with some thoughts on things.

Look, there’s no denying that 2020 was a brutal year for just about everyone. A global pandemic, the first of its kind in a century, swept over the Earth, and things went nuts as a result. Borders closed, the economy went into a complete tailspin, jobs died by the truckload, millions became homeless, over three million people (and still counting upward) died … 2020 was, without a doubt, one of the nastiest years on record for many (I mean, I broke four ribs—TWICE).

But it wasn’t all bad. And I’m not trying to excuse the year, mind. That’s not the point of this at all. Nor am I saying “Hey, ignore all that awful stuff because of this one good thing.” Conditions out there are still awful for many, covid-19 hasn’t quite eased its grip on us yet, and there’s still plenty of fallout from the disaster of last year that needs to be dealt with. Sands, in the US we’re still on the cusp of about ten percent of the population becoming homeless. That’s a major problem that needs to be dealt with.

But I do want to take a moment to reiterate something I said last year about when this all does end: That we not let things go back to “normal.”

I bring this up again because I’ve seen it being pushed lately, with the vaccine rollout in the US being what it is, that we can “finally” return to “normal.” People are excited and ready to “go back to the way things were.”

But you know what? I think that’s a mistake. Yeah, there were plenty of bad things about last year. A titanic number, in fact.

But there was a lot of good too. And I think casting that aside to “go back” would be a mistake.


Right, so let me give you some background. I live next to a really nice river trail, and have for the last five years. There are multiple parks along its length, with playgrounds for children, a skate park, spots for fishing … It’s actually super nice.

And last year, with the pandemic, you know what I saw? I saw more people using it and everything attached to it than ever. Rare, pre-2020, did I see children at the playground, even young ones, during the day. Once the pandemic hit and people were out of work, or working from home, you know how many people used the trail? Would socially distance and isolate at the parks?

Tons. I saw more people using those parks in the last year than I have, I would say with only a small exaggeration, in all the years previous.

Oh, it got better than that. Like I said, the trail runs along a river. You know what a bunch of enterprising kids did at one spot?

They made a pool. A bunch of kids moved the river rocks and made a “dam” that made a little relaxation pool, and then set up a rope swing. There was hardly a day I biked past that there weren’t families and swimmers out enjoying that pool. And once others saw it and got the idea … Well, I counted four by July.

And to those concerned, this sudden influx of new users didn’t seem to account for any additional damage or littering to the parks, thankfully. I know that’s not true everywhere, but for the most part, the parks stayed the same.

Point is (reminding myself that this is supposed to be a shorter post), last year had a lot that sucked, yes. But it also had some good that came of it. Parents got to spend time with their kids and their families that they never really had before. People discovered hobbies and the world outside of their workplace. Realized that working three jobs 60+ hours a week just to survive was … awful.

And I don’t think we should let those moments of gold we found among the dross be paved back under by a desire (which, at least in the US, is being driven largely by corporate voices) to “return to normal.”

Sure, we’d go back to the familiar. But what would we lose? I’m reminded here of the Trump Administration’s call to reopen US schools during which it was said that the ‘proper place for fathers and mothers was working for the good of the economy,’ and that children should be in school to make that happen.

No. I disagree with that on every single level. The aim of work isn’t to work so that we can work even more, with the end result that some board member or stockholder can get rich without having to lift a finger. The aim of work is so that we can live. Not exist, but live. To spend time with our kids. To find self-fulfillment and enjoyment. To learn new things.

That doesn’t mean that businesses shouldn’t reopen as more and more vaccines go out and the threat of covid-19 is eased. But it does mean, to me at least, that we should reconsider the how and where of our time and our very lives.

Case in point: Right now a lot of fast food and restaurant businesses in my part of the world are trying to reopen, but they’re having a really tough time finding employees (with the caveat of “for what we are willing to pay”). They’ve been raising a real stink about it, telling anyone that’ll listen that its the fault of ‘unemployment being too high,’ or ‘those free money stimulus checks,’ or even (sad to say) ‘the minimum wage being too high and making people expect too much.’

But the truth it that it’s none of those things. It’s the free-market. Supply and demand. People just spent an entire year not eating at a lot of these places, and it would seem in a lot of cases realizing that “Yeah … I don’t need to.” People discovered they could cook.

And the employees? A lot of them found better jobs, or realized that they could work a job that was far less stressful, or realized that they didn’t desire their very soul at a 24/7 beck and call of an impartial manager who only cares how large their bonus will be regardless of how many employees burned out with no compensation.

In other words, the people who are crying crocodile tears the most for the world to “go back to normal?” They’re doing so because they benefitted heavily from how it used to be, at the cost of those around them.

And over the course of 2020? People rediscovered the outdoors. They rediscovered the importance of spending time with their children, or their loved ones. They discovered that there was more to life than living hanging on the sporadic, day-to-day schedules of multiple jobs that simply did not care about the people working them just to “survive.” They found hobbies. They found new experiences. New places. New aspects of themself.

To “go back to normal” would mean to shelve all of that. And to that, I say simply “No.”

We shouldn’t go back to normal. Fathers and mothers shouldn’t go back to never seeing or speaking with their own children. Parks shouldn’t go back to being unused. Those rock pools along the trail where I live shouldn’t go back to being empty.

2020’s quarantine was about saving lives, but in the process so many, many people discovered for the first time what it was to have a life, rather than simply existing as a day-in-day-out number for some higher authority.

And I don’t think we should go back. I don’t think that old “normal” is worth returning to, where thousands of people give up their lives so that people higher up the chain can have a life with a lot of really nice stuff.

I think we need the people around us. We need our hobbies. We need our lives.

So to those who look at a restaurant job that won’t pay a poverty level wage and decide they’d rather not work and keep looking for another job: Good for you. Keep looking. Don’t sell yourself to a business that will use you, grind you up, and cast you aside without a glance or even a “you burned well” mug. We don’t need that restaurant as much as you need to actually have an existence.

So as I’ve said before, let’s not go back to normal. In the words of the forward thinkers, let’s build “a new normal.” One where parents spend time with their children, adults with their friends, and where hobbies can flourish rather than being ground away.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work. Work is part of life, after all. But work should be fulfilling. Those that employ us should see as more than a “means to a end,” a view which has become increasingly popular in the US (and with that end being “make me as rich as possible while burning the worker’s bodies for fuel”). Employers need to see those that work for them as people with lives, not fuel for their pyre of wealth and ostentation. There is a balance we can reach (and the US indeed was there for several decades before shifting away).

But again, this is supposed to be a short post, so enough on that.

End of it all, let’s not go back to normal. Let’s make a new normal. One where people can live. One where the end summation and goal of a person’s existence isn’t how much revenue they can provide for the shareholders, but where they can have a “revenue” for themselves.

Let’s not let the trails become empty once more. Let’s not let the neighborhood community parties die. Let’s not let our hobbies wither on the vine. Let’s not go back to an office for a job we did better from home “just because.”

Let’s build a new normal where we can keep our lives. And if that just happens to mean someone else’s life now has to deal with a two-million dollar private jet instead of a five-million dollar private jet, or even, gasp, a rental … Well … I’m okay with that.

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