MICHELLE OGUNDEHIN

Delving deeper than decor to explore the power of home as a path to wellbeing #happyinside

April 5, 2020

What New Normal?

The term ‘New Normal’ is being bandied around a lot at the moment. But what does it even mean? A recent interview with Li Edelkoort on Dezeen quoted her as saying “It seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.”

How lovely, but I’m sorry, I disagree. In the short term, for sure, some of us might revel a little in our imposed ‘staycations’. We may have a forage through our wardrobes, dig out the old cookbooks and order a few weighty tomes that we absolutely intend to read. But in the long term, I don’t anticipate change on the level of ‘the great correction’ that many so fervently hope for.

She concludes with, “We will be in a position of having a blank page for a new beginning because lots of companies and money will be wiped out in the process of slowing down. Redirecting and restarting will require a lot of insight and audacity to build a new economy with other values and ways of handling production, transport, distribution and retail.”

This statement, however, is true. It would take a huge political and societal shift to build such a new ‘normal’ way of being. Which is precisely why it won’t happen. And whenever restrictions are lifted, neither are we all going to emerge from this and universally change our ways.

let’s get real

What is more likely to happen in the first instance is an absolute frenzy of credit-card fuelled consumerism as the majority gorge on everything that has been forbidden. Both as a pyschological reward to themselves, and as a quest to reclaim what was previously ‘normal’.

Factories will re-open because people want their jobs back. The sky will again go grey above China because we’ve seen now how many companies rely on it for goods and components. Flights will be re-booked because nothing can replace the nuance of personal interaction (let’s be honest, Zoom sucks for meetings). The Venice canal will be churned brown once more just as the sky over LA will be smog-filled, because the transportation systems that cause this are what make both cities function.

Also, most of the people who started walking and jogging over the last few weeks will stop because their attention will be pulled back elsewhere. And if we look to history we can remember that once the Spanish flu finally subsided, there were many months of lives shrouded by fear. Fear of each other. Fear of re-infection. Fear of it all happening again.

For even while we are still in the midst of this, we won’t take up yoga or meditation if we had no inclination to do so beforehand. We won’t read those weighty tomes, start crochet lessons, re-organise the cellar/our wardrobes/our photo albums or do any other of the worthy things that all those first ‘how-to-make-the-most-of-your-lockdown’ articles suggested.

And you know what, that’s ok. Because most of us are concentrating on surviving. Not giving into worry. And not killing our partners or permanently emotionally-damaging our children. In short, most of us are just trying to stay upright while the sand shifts continuously under our feet. And for Li to believe otherwise is an utterly idealistic (and probably very middle-class) fantasy.

so where do we go then?

The point is the difference between reaction and response. All the leaping to ‘transform difficulties into opportunities’ and scrabbling to establish a ‘new normal’ as fast as possible is reaction. Laudable, but still knee jerk reaction.

Nothing about this situation is normal (if we put aside for a moment the fact that we’ve actually been here before, referencing Spanish flu, Sars, Swine flu, Ebola etc). Thus we cannot expect ourselves to quickly transition into a new way of being. Especially one that so goes against the grain of human nature — to be sociable.

Instead we’re being challenged/forced to accept that we do not know when, or how, this may end. If we will, or won’t, get sick. Therefore we must take each day as it comes and be wary of undue catastrophising. This alone is our collective reality. To fight against it is understandable, but futile.

it’s not all bad

There’s certainly room for some positivity though via some of the responses to the pandemic. From the Italian doctor, Marco Ranieri, who worked out how to make one ventilator serve two. Companies like Dyson and even Formula 1 offering their engineering expertise to the health sector. Our ability to transform a conference centre into a hospital with the capacity to hold 4000 patients in 9 days. All of these are beyond fantastic. Yet this is actually what we have a right to expect from civilised society.

If there is a need, and you have the expertise, you must give. We’ve seen this too at a ground level in the UK with 750,000 people freely volunteering to support the NHS.

So here’s what I hope

That some of us will change a little. That some of us will realise that we do not need as many clothes as we thought. That luxury is not consumer goods, it’s school runs and chats on park benches. That some of us will decide that perhaps they don’t need a car after all. Or that we could holiday in our own country. Or that even 10 minutes of daily exercise is actually really great.

That some of us will switch our energy supplier to one that supports green sources. And that many of us will continue to keep in touch with our neighbours and think about the needs of the elderly and vulnerable. And you know what, this will be enough. Because with this will also come the realisation that the change we seek can come from our actions as individuals for the following very simple reason — every time you buy something, watch something, engage with something, or eat something, you advocate for the provider to stay in business.

I wrote about this as early as my 2019 Trend Report (penned in 2018), and again a year later in my 2020 Trend Report, which ended with a quote from author Euny Hong saying, “Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the strongest; it means survival of the most adaptable.” It is also what informed my responses to the various Colours of the Year proposed for 2020 (Dulux’s Tranquil Dawn to Pantone’s Classic Blue).

in summary…

Pre-Corona we were already on the brink of a revolution prompted by our ‘Age of Anxiety’. Thus we had already been shown the way forward. And it did not vest either power or hope in those at the top. Those edifices were already crumbling as we saw what they were really made of (think the European Union to Phillip Green and Harvey Weinstein).

Now a light has been shone on a different sort of darkness. In other words, we’ve been shown the true colours of many new things. The businesses that fire their staff at the first whiff of trouble (and in the US, this usually means instant loss of vital health insurance too). The people who fail to observe common-sense guidelines. The President who plays politics with vital medical supplies.

My point being, this is the moment for personal introspection, and individual responsibility, not for waiting for governments to show us the way. We have more power than we think, but only if we choose to take it, individually.

Four other things I’ve concluded over the last 14 days…

• This isn’t going to be the death of the office, but many meetings could always have been a well-crafted email.
• Online is expedient but the joy of shops is connection (much for the retail sector to learn here).
• In general, the cult of convenience needs to be challenged; just because we can, has never meant we should.
• We should always have appreciated our key workers, NHS, posties, refuse collectors, teachers etc. Obvious, but stating, because we need governance that values these essential institutions even when it’s not politically expediant. Right now payrises would mean more than claps.

And here’s eight more things that I think we will, or must, also see change in the lifestyle sector — Back to a Future: the Opportunity of the Next Decade.

PS Thank you for reading this, and if you’d like to know when I next post something, please subscribe here.

14 replies »

  1. Thank you for your clear vision ,
    It’s definitely not survival of the fittest this time ,
    But we’ll survive this if we are prepared to a new world happening after this pandemic.
    I am lucky i am already trained for that as the first thing my wise brother told me at Roissy airport in Paris 1969 is “ Adapt or die “
    I was 14!
    Harsh but totally tight .
    So we should all start to learn to adapt to living in this new world unfolding daily !
    Can’t wait to read your new blog 🙏

    • Yep, adapt or die. Brutal, but that’s basically it! PS Must be hard for you right now as I know how much you love to travel. But maybe now is the perfect moment for you to make your home here a little more enticing?? M xxx

  2. I agree with what you have written, things will revert to what they were but I really hope that, as you have said, we will cherish again our local high streets, all our key workers and all those who we have come to realise mean so much to us. Hopefully people will remember what it feels like when you don’t see family and friends even though you are desperate for their company and will make time for each other with visits, telephone calls and maybe even letters. Maybe, just maybe we will draw closer together again.

    • Letters! Oh my gosh, wouldn’t that be wonderful. It is so incredibly unusual these days to receive a hand-written letter. Inspired by you, I shall endeavour to write one tomorrow!! Thank you for that. M xxx

  3. As ever Michelle, your post resonates and is such a strong voice of common sense. I especially identify with ‘reacting not responding’… my son and I are listening to / reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now – have you read this?
    Love Sarah x

    • I found it a struggle to read at first. he has such a ponderous way of writing! But on a second read it made more sense. I found I had to let it all sit with me for a while before I really ‘got’ it, if you know what I mean. Definitely worth perservering with! The title alone is the lesson. M xxx

  4. Michelle, you write with such integrity.

    Quote: “Most of us are concentrating on surviving” completely resonates with me.
    Taking each day at a time. Who knows when this will end, and let’s be realistic because until there is a vaccine the threat will continue to be there whatever the state of lockdown.

    Those getting impatient with the restrictions will allow this threat to continue for longer.

    One day we will go back to many of our old ways. Because that’s appears to be the nature of this world now. It’s just too fast to allow us to remember how we should be living our lives and what’s important. Anxiety’s will change but still be there.

    Having been diagnosed with Lymphoma at the end of January 2020 to then have this pandemic engulf my life some 8 weeks after, I have no idea how to react or manage my “new normal”. It is, quite frankly to overwhelming to know how to.

    Clapping to show our thanks to those working in the front line, keeping us safe and able to stay home is a great gesture of unity at this time. But perhaps we are embarrassed that we haven’t respected what we have for a long time. As one who has worked in the public sector for many years, both in education and the NHS I have seen the abuse and the day to day struggle.
    The only real way to reward them is to to ensure they are paid a salary to reflect their skills, hard work, kindness and dedication.

    To leave on a positive note – Someone once said to me – “we have won the lottery of life being born or living in England”. How true.

    • What a beautifully considered reply. Thank you so much for taking the time to share. And my deepest strength to you in these trying times regarding your disgnosis as well. M xx

  5. Absolutely agree with you 100% – feeling “guilty” because i have a few years backlog of books, i can’t go to Pilates classes but haven’t felt the desire to do any at home, and haven’t suddenly started baking more or got round to sorting more clothing etc. I have vaguely watered the garden and cooked some of the rhubarb growing first – but I would always do that

    These times are not the new normal. Communicating by email or phone isn’t the same as getting out to see family or friends – so a positive from that is that I will make time in future to do

    Thank you for having some commonsense, and realising that while positives will and should come out of all this, business will need to be more thoughtful in its approach but needs to operate as part of a functioning society

  6. I have been a long time admirer of Li Edelkoort, at least 20 years. I read the original interview when it was released and I must say, I too did not agree at all. I totally agree with your thoughts and thank you for saying it publicly.

  7. It makes a change to read a sensible, well-thought out piece on Coronavirus and its effect on our daily lives. Thank you Michelle; I always enjoy reading your posts.

  8. Thank you, such a good read. For me as a designer, it makes you realise how much collaboration is key. Not just formal meetings, but those little conversations you have on a daily basis, or the image you spot that triggers an idea, or takes your thinking in a different direction. Nothing is normal and I think our brains will take a lot longer to process the real effects of the changes than we think.

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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.