Life in the new normal

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    WE are entering Week 5 of the enhanced community quarantine imposed in Luzon, with another week to go, my dear millennials and fillennials. If anyone said back in December that the first quarter of 2020 would be like this, I’m not certain anyone would have believed it.

    If anyone told me months ago that I would experience a small joy in exchanging Quarantine Cooking recipes with strangers via email, I would’ve laughed. (If you haven’t received an email yet, just ask around: the #QuarantineCooking Recipe Exchange is sort of a chain letter situation, asking you to send your favorite or go-to recipe to one person identified on the list sent by your friend, whether that person is a stranger or not. Then you forward the email to others who might be interested to join.)

    But here we are. Despite a month of living in lockdown, many of us are still struggling to cope in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, owing to the large-scale disruption it has caused to many facets of what used to be our normal lives.

    There is some truth to the adage that necessity—and in our case now, disruption—is the mother of all invention. Life in the new normal has shown us many things, and will perhaps forever change the way we go about our business in the future.

    For one, those who are privileged to work from home are now learning that it is quite possible—to actually work from home. I’m sure that discussions about employee productivity will be relevant in the future, and hopefully this will spur government and other businesses to seriously consider a policy that will allow those who are able to work from home. Such a policy will greatly help ease burgeoning traffic, providing much-needed decongestion to our streets and to our public transport. This, of course, should not mean that government should pull back on additional infrastructure and increasing the capacity of mass transport in the country.

    Another good learning—we now understand the value not just of our health workers, but also for positions previously classified as unskilled: delivery riders, cleaning personnel, garbage collectors, supermarket attendants.

    I hope this recognition moves beyond just clapping for and praising them on social media (there’s nothing wrong with that, too) into concrete measures to uplift their working conditions, including increasing their pay. From unskilled workers, we must now recognize them as essential workers and pay them according to their value. Yes, this means you, big business. The next time you think of undercutting the pay of these folks, remember what they’ve done for us during this pandemic. Don’t forget it.

    Perhaps my most favorite learning of all—we can go beyond ourselves to help others. You see it everywhere, from the singers and musicians going on Facebook Live to share music to uplift our spirits (and raise funds to buy PPEs for our front liners) to the Pizza Hut delivery guy using the day’s tips to buy bread so he could give it to the homeless folks on the street. Clothing designers banding together to rev their sewing machines not for couture but for PPEs. Ordinary citizens who go out and drive around the empty streets, looking for stranded front liners and essential workers. Folks donating their bicycles so others can go to their work places. Barangay health workers who go around and check on their communities, risking their own health in the process.

    Yes, we may have a long list of things that irritate and anger us—from slow government action, half-baked but widely-announced quarantine policies, insensitive and out-of-touch replies to concerns of ordinary folk, nationwide addresses in the dead of night. For now, we deal with those in ways available to us. But there are also those that keep us going until we adjust to life post-pandemic, those who give us hope in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty, and we hold on to those like a diver gasping for oxygen.

    As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said: We salute the better angels among us.

    Stay inside if you can, wash your hands properly, and be kind to one another.

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