Which parts of normal will we rush back to? And which parts of normal will we redefine?

Author: Brad Webb, Samaritans CEO

In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

These words are from Dave Hollis, host of the podcast Rise Together.

They have been a source of inspiration for me as Samaritans, like all of us, has adapted to the changes and challenges that COVID-19 has forced upon us.

Normal seems like a dream from a long time ago.

Who really thought that we would experience large-scale shutdown of our society? That we would witness long queues of people lining outside Centrelink offices?

That we would not be able to visit friends and family?

Normal has been turned upside down, and inside out.

People who had taken their freedom for granted are now grappling with some of those freedoms being taken away.

People who had never encountered financial vulnerability are now struggling to pay the bills. People who had previously supported organisations like Samaritans are now seeking support for themselves.

Already vulnerable communities are now facing greater threats. Lockdowns will increase the incidence of domestic and family violence.

Lack of access to technology and broadband will exacerbate social isolation and educational disadvantage. People with disability are at increased risk of exclusion and illness.

Yet in this chaos and turmoil, there are incredible things happening that give us reason to be hopeful.

Governments are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and the need to stimulate the economy in a period of social distancing in ways that are setting aside traditional party lines and developing solutions that six months ago were inconceivable.

We are seeing strong leadership stand out and weak leadership challenged, which is laid bare for all to see.

Politicians and media identities who sought to polarise debate and preserve power are being forced aside to make way so that we can explore innovative solutions that will benefit the entire community.

This includes a renewed appreciation for the importance of social safety nets such as income support and community services.

The economic powerhouses of small and medium businesses in Australia, which account for 55.8 per cent of GDP and 68.3 per cent of employment, are bearing the brunt of the downturn.

Their importance to our economy is more visible than before as diminished trade and lockdowns result in temporary or permanent closure.

Yet they have also shown agility and innovation in responding to these pressures, and many will emerge from this period with increased resilience and determination.

Despite their own fear and vulnerability, communities are looking out for each other. Old-fashioned ‘telephone trees’ and letterbox drops are sitting alongside FaceTime and Zoom as we reach out and check in with each other.

Facebook groups help us find services in our local community and link people in need.

Teddy bears are appearing in front windows in cities and towns across the region to brighten the days of young children. People are reaching out to organisations such as Samaritans with offers of assistance.

Personally, we are learning new things about ourselves. About what we value in our government, our employers, our families. About our strengths and capacity. About the role we have, and seek to have, in our broader personal and professional lives.

Clearly, we are at a time of seismic change – politically, economically and socially.

So, the question remains. Which parts of normal will we rush back to? And which parts of normal will we redefine?

My hope is that we will see a fresh perspective on what society means to us. A deeper understanding of what it feels like to be vulnerable, and what it feels like to ask for and receive help. A continued focus on the value of caring for each other. A deeper respect between government, business and charity in supporting that community.

My hope is that we will take this experience and use it to guide the other challenges facing us as a society. Responding to climate change. Supporting industries and regions through economic transition. Increasing the visibility and participation of people with disability.

Delivering reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Ensuring that women and children are safe in their own homes.

My hope is that when we reflect on the fear, uncertainty and sadness of this time, we will also find the strength to create a positive legacy for all of us.