The new normal: same same, but different

Despite the masks, physical distancing and reliance on hand sanitiser, there is little doubt that we’re heading back to some sense of normal. It’s most welcome. And the feeling seems to be mutual all round (introvert and extrovert alike).

We’ve heard the phrase “new normal” thrown around a lot. I remember how much my sister despised the phrase. To her, she didn’t want a new normal. She desperately desired the old normal. A way of living that was defined by close community, not just metaphorically, but literally. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t alone.

After six months of pretty hard lockdown, we’re heading back to some degree of normal. Schools have returned, much to the delight and dismay of learners (largely dependent on the grade the learners find themselves in). Hotels are buzzing with holiday makers, only too happy to escape their homes, which have felt like holding cells. Restaurants are full again, the ambiance elevated by laughter and chatter, adding to the lighting, decor and sounds of meat sizzling on the grill. 

I’ve returned to the classroom, I’m back on pool deck and relishing the opportunity of physical interaction, without the need for an internet connection, some sort of screen and a mute button. The feeling seems to be mutual, among staff, learners and parents. Irrespective of extroverted or introverted tendencies, there is little doubt that humans are social creatures, and crave connections with other humans.

When it comes to the introverted/extroverted scale, I feel we all have a little bit of both in all of us. Personally engaging with people nourishes my soul and replenishes my energy stores. But it can also exhaust me. All dependent on the day, time, place and person (quite heavily dependent on the person, in all honesty).

The start of lockdown was glorious. And it was right up my introvertedness’s alley. The Zoom calls, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams meetings provided a good level of protection. Arrive to a meeting early? No need for that awkward small talk – just hit mute and continue with that Netflix binge. Looking a little worse for wear? No worries, there’s a button for that too. The medium of communication was so good in fact, that I started to fear a return to normal. Actually interacting with actual people was a terrifying thought. And, as we edged closer to the day of return, anxiety slowly built.

And the day arrived (as it inevitably would). Dusting off the old suit and tie, trudging through the traffic and arriving back at a bustling campus. Like none of it had ever happened. Sure the masks, teaching behind screens and constant reminders to learners to sanitise acted as constant reminders to the plague among us. But back-to-normal felt way better than expected. The introverted anxiety was replaced by extroverted excitement.

All around, the extroverted nature of all I met emerged. The suppressed social interaction, six months of solace was unleashed all around. Marking was taking longer than usual, as teachers reached for coffee over red pens. Swimming sessions shortened, as more banter than normal was dished out by coaches and swimmers alike. Less content was covered during class, as learners and teachers discussed new gaming trends, memes and their Netflix movie/series recommendations.

It certainly seems to be a new normal. We’re doing all the same things (albeit as though prepped for surgery – not quite but you get the point). It seems the “new” before normal represents our age-old seriousness of the day being replaced by a deep desire to connect, care and interact. If that’s the case, long may we live in the new normal.