The Spanish Flu of 1918. September 11, 2001. The COVID-19 pandemic. We can think of these traumatic experiences the world has collectively undergone in the last 150 years (and even just in our lifetimes) as events that changed what people considered ‘normal’ life: new annual vaccines, increased public security, wearing masks to the grocery store, and Zoom happy hours being a thing. Society adjusts, and phrases like ‘the new normal,’ get thrown around–but what is ‘normal’?
People may crave comfort, consistency, control, and being able to pack into a bar and breathe freely without the fear of being infected by a rampantly spreading virus, but where is room for growth, evolution and understanding when minds are so set on what used to be? What’s so great about how things used to be?
If you’ve seen Mrs. America on Hulu, then you know Cate Blanchett plays Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist that adamantly fought against the Equal Rights Amendment and outwardly opposed women’s rights. She began her first speech by introducing the concept of women’s liberation as “a threat to the traditional American family,” and I think the word ‘traditional’ here can be interchangeable with ‘normal’. Ironically, throughout the entire series, Phyllis displays immense strength, confidence, competency beyond her male counterparts and gains increasing influence in her position of resistance against what she perceived as the threat of feminism.
*SPOILER ALERT* All the while, her character sustains an aching longing for more, and the show ends with her ‘return to normal’ as a housewife, burying her pain as she peels potatoes in her kitchen alone.
What if Phyllis’ mentality had won out, in some way? That this silly fad of equal rights never caught on and people remained as they were in 1951. Even in 20 years, we’ve evolved in marked ways–watching old seasons of reality shows in 2001 will show you plenty of moments that will elicit a physical shudder and an audible, “We don’t talk like that anymore,” response.
Presidential candidate Warren Harding won 60% of the popular vote in 1920 — coming off a world war and a pandemic. The United States craved what they previously experienced, and currently perceived, as normal. Pre-war, pre-pandemic, free of the worries they faced, and ol’ Warren appealed to that deluded, but comforting ideal:
He construed serenity and healing as going backwards, but profound healing is found by going forward.
If you haven’t seen Sound of Metal yet, I’ll try not to incorporate any more spoilers into my sentiment, but you can find anything I’m about to write in the trailer. Ruben, a drummer in a metal band, suddenly begins rapidly losing his hearing–through his emotional and spiritual struggles to accept this, someone wise tells him that the important solution is to change how he thinks about and perceives his life and who he is, not his hearing. By letting go of his rigid mindset and manic grip he had on his life, Ruben opens himself up to a new love for himself and the world he inhabits, and it’s a life-affirming and beautiful evolution.
Life is always in a state of flux, whether you notice it or not. It may take life-altering world events or identity-shattering personal events for you to notice it, and to make peace with it, but it’s worth moving forward for.
How are you moving forward? As you return to the office or public life, are you craving the old or building something new? Check in with your employees, your customers, and your community to level set, communicate, and move forward together. Need help kicking off the conversation? Let’s connect.