Andrew Cuomo, the beleaguered governor of New York State, made an offhand remark the other day in one of his regular press briefings. “I don’t think we get back to normal,” he said with one of his philosophic sighs. “I think we get to a new normal.”
So, I have begun to ask: What is to be this ‘new normal?’ Here are some things that were not so normal as late as New Year’s Eve 2019 and yet three months later have very quickly become the norm – at least for now.
While there are plenty of things I would not like to see stick around that relate to the current pandemic, there are other things I would. These are briefly jotted down, in no particular order.
- “How are you?” has become a real––rather than a routine––question. Emphasis is placed more on the word “are”.
- Social consciousness is up – way up. “Social distancing” is actually mis-named. “Physical distancing” it is for sure, but socially you may feel closer to people around you because you have become more mindful of them. Random greetings of strangers––in parking lots, on street sidewalks, in elevators––have grown more common, I think.
- Wearing a mask not to protect yourself but to protect others: This represents a small example of an immense potential in shift of consciousness. If you track the three ideals of Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Social Organism historically in this country, you may notice a sequence of unfolding over time. First, especially during the earliest colonial days but even into the last century, we in America valued freedom above all, even to a fault (as in “free” enterprise, which isn’t actually free but is treated as though it is). Then, sometime in the 1990s––perhaps earlier but certainly after the 9/11attacks––emphasis shifted from the ideal of freedom to the second ideal of equity, even if it cost us some measure of freedom. In the name of greater security, for instance, we came to accept limitations to our freedom––for instance, in the way we traveled, especially by air or across a foreign border––and these restrictions were equally applied. To be sure, we have a long way to go in establishing this ideal of equity across all segments of our society. Nonetheless, I discern some new steps already being taken to practice to a greater degree something of Steiner’s third ideal: fraternity, especially in the economic sphere. The latest pandemic has brought home the reality that “I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper.” Wearing a mask to protect one’s social siblings rather than oneself is a small but significant step in that direction. Again, we are a far cry from making this the basis of our financial and economic life, but already some of the “fraternal” principles that we have resisted as a society for decades are being enacted by acclamation (at least for the short term and at least in certain parts of the country), for instance in the financing of health care, protection from eviction, forgiveness of small business loans, extension of unemployment payments, and enlargement of child care benefits.
- Briefly, perhaps to the point of sounding trite, we are shifting from a culture of “ME-consciousness” to a culture of “WE-consciousness” and, more importantly, a culture of “YE-consciousness”. This was the ultimate task that Rudolf Steiner identified as being the mission of the human race for as long as we inhabit this earth. Yes, we struggle first for ME-consciousness (otherwise called “freedom”) but ultimately, we give it away for the sake of the other–– in “YE-consciousness” (or what is better known as agape, the highest form of love).
- Crime, at least certain kinds of it, is down. So is gambling and drug use.
- The Paris Accord is being enacted de facto – even in the one major country that backed out of it de jure.
- Put differently, the earth is healing itself. We have been simply unwilling to do it, despite all of the warnings and scientific studies . . . and so nature has stepped in to do it for us.
- People are singing spontaneously more often with each other––albeit at a distance––in the streets of Brooklyn, from the balconies of New Orleans, on the porches of homes where old people live in protective quarantine. In general, there is more spontaneous creation of visual and performance arts. Some is “virtual”, but a lot of it is “real”, even if organized via social media.
- We are practicing the soul/spiritual discipline of distinguishing the essential from the inessential. Rudolf Steiner recommended this practice as an effective exercise for the strengthening the “I” in relationship to the astral body. “I will” replaces “I want”.
- Family life is greatly enhanced. This is both positive and not so positive, depending on how family members treat one another. The potential for good, however, is limitless. Just last week Governor Cuomo reported that after two decades as a father he was finally discovering who his daughters really are.
- “Work life” and “home life” are much more integrated, at least in some cases. A day thereby can become much more coherent, woven of one cloth. Despite the potential for chaos and for strife, kids get to experience––and perhaps even respect––what their parents do when they’re not being parents.
- By the same token, parents have become much more involved in the education of their children.
- Rush-hour traffic is greatly curtailed. This is one of many examples of how social stress can be greatly reduced (especially if your commute involves lots of red lights).
- People are paying a lot more attention to their health – especially to the organs of heart and lung. We may hope to see the currently lowered levels of smoking stay in place once this pandemic has receded. In the meantime, our physical (as well as spiritual) immune systems are getting a work-out as never before.
- Appreciation of essential services and professions is up; attention to inessential services and professions is down. On the “up” side I include nurses, priests, farmers, grocers, delivery services. (I will let readers fill in their own examples on the “down” side so as not to insult any one profession.)
- We see how economic competition, despite apparent initial advantages, in the end works against the interests of all involved, even of the so-called “winners”.
- Instruments of war (and perhaps the funds that sustain them) are being redirected in service of peaceful civilian purposes.
- We have greater awareness of the fact that when it comes to human health, walls don’t keep things out, and they don’t offer that much protection, either.
- Finally, and perhaps most important to those who work in Waldorf education:
While we would not choose to convert our school programs to “distance learning”, this technological medium may, from one perspective, actually be nudging us to become ever more Waldorf in our teaching, in the sense that we are having to rely much more on what our students can experience by themselves (albeit with our guiding questions) than on what we can tell them or discuss with them in a classroom setting. Inevitably, we are having to become all the more experiential, all the more “student centered”, ultimately all the more
“e-ducational”––in the original meaning of this term––through our pedagogical practices.
We may here glimpse something of “the new normal” in a future approach to the life of education –– and of life as a whole.