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Will it Stick?

The only thing that we know for certain with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, is that we can’t be certain of anything! I am, however, sure that as with all things: this, too, shall pass. But what will our world look like when it is over? If it is ever over. What will be the new “normal”?

Until a short few months ago, it would be considered rude to refuse a handshake upon meeting. In many European cultures, that handshake was accompanied with one or more kisses as standard practice. In addition to all those polite and intentional “contacts”, think for a second about how many accidental contacts you encountered in a day through either not thinking before touching someone else while chatting or through a lack of spatial awareness, accidentally invading another person’s space. And I am certain that very few people washed their hands every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at a time.

It didn’t take very long at all, just a couple of weeks, for “social distancing”, self-isolation, obsessive and thorough hand-washing, and maintaining a 6 foot gap between anyone else in public became the new standard; and, by all accounts, this behaviour change has been effective at doing what it was supposed to do and we are starting to see the flattening of the curve. With the rate of infection slowing, I find myself starting to wonder how many of these new habits will remain the social norm. What habits will stick and which will be forgotten?

I predict we will see that many businesses and schools will permanently adopt some of those temporary measures that have been implemented during this time without seeming to have had a negative effect on productivity. Most notably, I think we will continue the practice of fewer face-to-face meetings, likely fewer meetings in general, less travel, more distance learning opportunities, and a greater acceptance of working from home. We are finally using the technology that has been improving over the last few decades in a way that makes sense for business and learning institutions.

Moving away from businesses and schools, I expect we will also see lasting changes in our personal lifestyles. Which direction will it go? Many people set a weight loss goal at the beginning of the year, but now we are joking about the “Covid 19 [lbs gained during our social isolation]”. The trend has shifted towards comfort foods and increased alcohol consumption. When life returns to “normal” will we continue to prioritize our comfort habits picked up during a crisis, or will we resume striving for a healthier lifestyle? What habits have you adopted during this time, and do you feel they were taken up as a temporary coping mechanism, or have your priorities changed long term? Will those habits be hard to break?

We are starting to hear that social distancing may be the way of the future, at least in the near future. I personally dislike the term “social distancing” as it suggests a social disconnect that I am not feeling during this time. I prefer to think of it as “spatial or physical distancing”. It is my hope that, out of all the behaviour changes we have adopted during this pandemic, that “social distancing” fades quickly. We can maintain a healthy physical distance, yet strengthen and nurture those close social connections. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I must admit I have, somewhat, welcomed the peace and quiet of this period, but I have also realized how much I miss and crave the joy and fun of really connecting with people for longer than a 30 minute Zoom meeting.

Here is what I hope we have learned and continue to practice long after the world “reopens”:

o Increased empathy: tough decisions have had to be made across a wide variety of industries over the last month, and I am happy to observe that the majority of these decisions have been executed with greater understanding, transparency and kindness than I was used to seeing in the past.

o Renewed appreciation of family: and I include this in the wider sense of a shift from “Me” to “We”. Our blinkers have been removed, and we are now more aware of the health of the community as a whole - we want them to be safe and well.

o Respect of people’s space and time: we are “seeing” each other with greater clarity than before. Currently we are being more intentionally aware just in case the other person has the “virus”, but I hope this will stick in a more meaningful way of “ I see you and I am aware of you and I want to give you as much space as you want”. Maybe we will even see fewer car accidents from our heightened awareness and decreased need to rush everywhere.

o Showing appreciation: I am filled with hope when I hear the outburst of community applause each evening in appreciation of all our healthcare and essential workers, buildings lit up with hearts or messages of community and love, neighbours coming together to play music together from their balconies or doorsteps. I sincerely hope that this appreciation of others continues long-term.

So, what are your thoughts on all this? Will the “Covid-bump” permanently replace hugs, handshakes, and kisses? Will we continue to be more respectful of people’s space? Throughout this crisis, what is the ONE habit, realization, or behaviour change that has meant the most to you and will you commit to nurturing that in our post-Covid world?

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