“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”Former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki
Whenever anyone asks me my favorite quote, I gravitate towards the one above. It makes no attempt at elegance or dazzle or cleverness. Rather it is a straightforward statement of a basic truth: that life and the world move on, and it is to our disadvantage if we don’t move with them.
We’ve all been reading about the states in which the easing of lockdowns started early and seeing the images of people standing shoulder to shoulder at bars and clubs. It’s all obviously ill-advised and has led to spikes in infections and hospitalizations. What fascinates me is that these people assumed that they could go back to “normal” life, as it was defined by the time before this pandemic.
I would argue that things will never be “normal” again, in the sense that we’ll return to something we once considered “normal”. Even looking at the word “normal” itself – conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected – these are not static things. Standards change. What is usual or typical changes. And expectation must follow the fact that change is a defining factor of normalcy.
One of the things that has been challenging throughout this lockdown is the notion that at some point we can get back to our lives and pick up where we left off. This ignores the fact, of course, that the world has utterly changed, and that there is no way that we can return to a time without Covid. We can (hopefully) vanquish our viral foe, but it has fundamentally changed the way in which we approach public health, the workplace, travel safety, personal responsibility, and countless other facets of life. We can never go back.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Things change. Change is necessary. And the minute we can accept that we won’t go back to something, but rather embrace a new standard, the easier it is to move forward with life.
On a very small scale I look at what happened with Pinkerton – pre-accident he was a extremely active and supremely athletic dog (go find a YouTube video of Papillons in agility competitions. They are extraordinary little balls of kinetic energy). He regularly accompanied us on 7-mile hikes and could outrun almost any dog for a short distance.
After the accident and the successful surgery, he is thankfully on the mend and able to walk. With time and physical therapy we hope he’ll be able to run. But no more hikes, and no more stairs, and no more tousling with larger dogs. The tiny athlete is no more.
From the viewpoint of the kind of life he had before the accident, it’s painful to think about the limitations he must live with post-injury (although to be fair, he’s a dog and doesn’t really care about past or future. The pain is entirely mine, and created by myself). I could be angry and sad about the fact that he can’t return to his pre-accident “normal”. Or I could simply accept that he now has a new “normal”.
Change is hard. In fact, that’s the sentiment of the quote (another favorite) that’s referenced in the title of this post – “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change” (Mary Shelley). But unless it’s accepted, there’s no way we can move ahead. And so we’ll be left behind.
And besides, I really dislike irrelevance.