NEW YORK - As our various cities, states, regions, and nations start to reopen at full capacity, Rutgers University's Dr. Peter Economou not only expects us — as individuals and a collective society — to struggle to return to our pre-pandemic lives but he also thinks we probably shouldn't aspire to recreate what was.
"Everything's always changing and so what we're going to be returning to is a new moment and a new experience," Economou, an associate professor of psychology, told FOX 5 NY.
And that change, understandably, provokes anxiety, because we don't know what this new moment means or what it might look like.
"Normalcy or returning to normalcy — There's no such thing," Economou said.
The University of Connecticut's Dr. Kenneth Vaughan said this involves all of us taking interest in the well-being of others. Vaughan, a sociology professor, admitted to looking forward to a time when he feels comfortable returning to places, participating in events, and seeing people from his pre-pandemic life. But he cautioned us from thinking of the challenges, costs, and benefits of reopening as purely economic.
"What I'm really excited about," he said, "what I'm looking forward to is the return to voluntary associations."
When we sign up for community service or an exercise class, when we go to church or play chess in the park or meet with a book club, we build trust in other people, our institutions, and our greater society.
"And that's good for you," Vaughan said. "That's healing for you."
And thus, voluntarily associating with others, per Vaughan, represents a large part of both the when and the how our society will recover from the trauma of the last year but won't necessarily return to something entirely familiar.
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"Habits can be reevaluated," Economou said. "They can be improved upon and we can create a new habit."
Vaughan said, "What changes and what changes we keep — a lot of that is going to be for our choosing."
The global nature of our pandemic experience in a world more connected than it's ever been creates a unique opportunity in the history of civilization to use an experience shared between every single human on earth, perhaps like nothing else before it, to either assign blame, foster division, and focus on isolation or create connection, embrace humanity, and commit to learning.
"We have that choice to make where we are investing in each other's healing," Vaughan said, "and I think that's something that can go into the history books forever."