POST-PANDEMIC CULTURAL CHANGES
For over two years we have endured enormous amounts of upheaval and change. From a global pandemic to Brexit to war and so much more in between, we have collectively witnessed multiple seismic shifts in a relatively short space of time which have impacted all of us as individuals and our culture at large. As the changes unfolded one after the other without any time to catch our breath, it has been difficult to predict what would emerge out of all of this turmoil.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic I felt comfortable with the perceived sense of direction I felt I had for the path our culture was on. At least within the niche space that I spend my time in. However, the last two years have left me unable to see anything beyond what was happening right in front of me. At times it’s been difficult to even gain a clear grasp of that.
When the pandemic broke out everything changed and continued to shift and change so quickly that it became impossible to make any sense of. I know that I was not alone in feeling bewildered by the events that were unfolding and the impact they would have on our lives. The last two years have felt like a time to watch, listen and process rather than to speak.
I have tried to sit patiently in this uncomfortable space of uncertainty for over a year now. As the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us and many of us have had a fair amount of time to lick our wounds, I feel the faintest sense beginning to emerge for the changes in the cultural narrative that are resulting from these tumultuous and fraught years.
There are many aspects to the direction our culture is headed in that are deeply concerning. At the same time I see so many encouraging changes that fill me with hope. We have all lived with so much fear and fretting that an intentional shift of our focus toward the positives does not seem naive at this stage but rather necessary. In the text that follows I wanted to intentionally focus on the positives I see emerging out of this difficult time and some of the beautiful and profound ways I believe our culture is transforming for the better.
As always there is so much work still to be done but that should not stop us from taking the time to notice all of the shifts and movements in our culture that seem to be headed in the right direction:
A deeper awareness – The last two years have seen many of us turn inwards to explore and face some of the more hidden aspects of ourselves and our lives. A true and compassionate awareness of the self always comes hand in hand with a deeper awareness and respect for the other. There is a general sense of increasing awareness around social issues, around recognition and respect for our own and other’s feelings, around the many differences between us and around how the diversity of our lived experiences shapes our individual view points and perspectives. Part of this rise in awareness has been fuelled by widespread access to modern media which is generally free of gatekeeping. Social media in particular but another strong force has been the spread of podcasting and other forms of long-form, easy-access information that can provide such a rich and deep insight into the thoughts and lives of people we would otherwise never have had access to.
Historically, a large burst in the increase of awareness and empathy for others was fostered by the spread of novels. In his book the Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker writes that “Lynn Hunt points out that the heyday of the Humanitarian Revolution, the late 18th century, was also the heyday of the epistolary novel. In this genre the story unfolds in a character's own words, exposing the character's thoughts and feelings in real time rather than describing them from the distancing perspective of a disembodied narrator.” Social media and podcasts offer something very similar bringing the person creating the content close to the person consuming it as never before. However, in addition, new media comes without any form of gatekeepers that decide who gets to spread their ideas and who does not. This less gated form of information spreading offers unique access to the thoughts and ideas of a wider array of people we would have otherwise never had access to.
For many of us the pandemic increased media consumption of all kinds and the combination of introspection and deeper awareness with a growing appreciation for the wide diversity in view points and lived experiences in the world around us is leading to a general rise in awareness and sensibility in many more people than ever before.
An increased tolerance for ambiguity – As our awareness for the complexities and idiosyncrasies of other people and the wider world around us grows, we start to build up the muscle for sitting in what for many of us can feel like the very uncomfortable space of the grey zone. One of the great challenges posed to our collective living is the reductive form of black and white thinking that we are all prone to. We deeply crave clarity and certainty and while this is an inherent part of the way our minds work it is unfortunately not the way that reality works. The pandemic has made this reality clearer than ever and in spite of the discomfort of sitting in this space of uncertainty, many of us have practised learning to tolerate both uncertainty and ambiguity as well as the tension they create in our minds. It is not so much that the desire for clarity is the problem as an insistence on clarity and certainty even in situations that are complex and multifaceted.
More and more people are learning to not only tolerate ambiguity but to embrace it. Learning how to hold multiple, seemingly opposing ideas, feelings, and points of view at the same time such as joy and pain is something many of us have received an unwelcome masterclass in throughout the course of the pandemic and the aftermath we are still living in. While this place of ambiguity can feel like an uncomfortable space to reside in, the more we lean into it, the more liberating it can feel and the more it opens us up to all the nuances in our own and other peoples' experiences and points of view.
A deeper understanding of grief – A paradoxical element of our culture is that we have collectively learned to fear and deny the only true universal in all of our lives: that we are here to love and to lose. Grief is a profound experience every single one of us will encounter, most likely multiple times throughout the course of our lives. And yet modern Western culture has done an extraordinarily good job of denying this reality. We keep death out of sight and deny our loses and this nonsensical and cruel practice leaves the grieving having to deal with isolation on top of the enormous weight of their loss. The pandemic brought on a tidal wave of grief that made it much harder for us to engage in this collective practice of denial. Instead of avoiding the pain inherent in facing our losses, many people took the time during the pandemic to face and to get to know their grief. I have enormous gratitude for this collective act of bravery and know how much better off we will all be if we can maintain it when the temptation returns to look away.
A rise in honesty and transparency – Attempting to put on a facade of perfection at a time like the one we have faced over the last two years not only seems impossible but nonsensical. The enormity of all of our collective losses made it easier to talk about the challenges we were facing, whether at home, with our mental health or in our jobs and businesses as they began to feel less like personal failings and more like the result of the challenging times we were living through. Repeatedly being exposed to the struggles that so many people were facing began to normalise this form of transparency and allowed many more people to begin to open up. As we became more comfortable with sharing our struggles alongside our triumphs the weight of pretence became something that increasing numbers of people were less willing to carry.
Increased interest in spirituality – In his book titled Apollo’s Arrow, Sociologist and Physician Nicholas Christakis explained that historical data suggest that people tend to become more religious during times of plague. While religion and spirituality are not the same, this revealing insight nevertheless points to something interesting that occurs during prolonged times of crisis. My sense is that when confronted with such incomprehensible events, the realisation that the sources we normally turn to for answers can no longer provide meaningful explanations to the most important and challenging questions that arise, leaves us turning toward alternative and traditional wisdoms that offer a more flexible framework that guides us toward self-exploration rather than definitive answers. While our knowledge and understanding on all manner of subjects has increased immensely over the last few thousand years of civilisation, our understanding of ourselves is still in its infancy. Sciences like psychology and sociology are still so young and many of the questions that matter most to us were not even studied by these disciplines until very recently. Questions of love and loss are only just beginning to be explored in a meaningful way and the hole this gap in our culture’s knowledge leaves can still only be soothed with art and spirituality that still provide the greatest solace in our times of need.
Search for meaning – This prolonged time of introspection has also led many people to re-evaluate the ways in which they are trying to bring meaning into their lives.
From questioning the order of our priorities to making adjustments to how we focus on them in our daily lives, many more people are embracing the long and difficult challenge of working to understand what gives their life meaning and how they can work within the limitations of their own unique reality to invite as much of it in as possible.
The need for this work has also been born out of an increasing rejection of some of the priorities our culture has set for us. The increase in awareness that many people have cultivated during the pandemic, combined with the pause that lockdown created, gave people an opportunity to questions some of the goals we were pursuing. Many more of us began to wonder whether these pursuits truly aligned with what we wanted for ourselves or whether we were simply going along with them because our culture placed such a strong value on them.
It finally feels like the bubble of the rat race for more is well and truly bursting. From environmental reasons to reasons of wanting to respect our own sense of wellbeing, the desire for more for its own sake that drove previous generations feels like it is losing its chokehold. Instead, more and more people are no longer willing to grasp for more by sacrificing what is meaningful.
While some of the points raised above were entirely brought on the by the pandemic, most were trajectories we were already on that the events of the last two years have accelerated or raised in salience. Digesting these ideas has also lead me to wonder about how these trajectories are likely to impact our relationships and requirements of our home spaces? In our next blog post we will stop to consider how these shifts may impact our relationship to our homes and what we may want out of them in future.
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