By Bradford F. Spencer, Ph.D., August 2020


Current Reality A New Normal

Physical distancing, working remotely, home schooling. Not getting together with friends, spending your days on Zoom, not traveling, no more sporting events/theater.

This is today’s reality—and we would be foolish to deny it or even waste our anger on it. And as human beings with social needs there is nothing “normal” about it. And so, to resign ourselves to this as a normative process that we choose to live with is to resign ourselves to something psychologists refer to as “learned helplessness.”

An elephant learns at a very early age it is not strong enough to pull up the stake holding its leg to a chain. As much as it strains, it cannot escape the bond keeping it where the owner wants it to stay. And so it gives up trying; it has learned it is helpless to escape. Yet, as a grown and very powerful adult, it can pull the stake up (usually with very little effort) – but it seldom tries.

As a leader of your organization, you must recognize your influence in accepting current COVID-19 imposed realities while resisting the temptation to accept them as new norms. The wise will adopt the learnings and unexpected joys that have come from this tragic pandemic. Not everyone may need to come to the office every day, tele-medicine may finally get the place it deserves in the system and other efficiencies will emerge.

However, if we bow to the convenience of ignoring the needs of human beings and believe schools can provide not simply the knowledge, but the development to become an adult, we will shirk our responsibilities to shape the new norms rather than recognize the fact we have temporary (albeit necessary) restraints to our social nature.

If we choose to simply view ourselves as victims, with no influence over our future, that will become a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, there are learnings we can and should adopt, but to accept the forced reality of a pandemic as a normative pattern of behavior is to prove ourselves victims, rather than responsible leaders with a high degree of influence over the new and improved norms we must design for ourselves, our workforces, and our families.