Can’t We Just Go Back To the Way It Was? Yes, But Why?

Once stretched, our vision shouldn’t return to its original size. Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis.

“Everyone is so ugly. I can see all the wrinkles in their faces and the blotches on their skin. Yuck!”

That’s what Mom said a week after I installed the new large-screen TV I gave her for Christmas. For the past decades, she’d been staring into a shoebox of a television, but as it—and her 90-year-old eyes—faded, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

The difference was incredible, but that’s not how Mom saw it. “Everything’s so big! Can’t we just go back to the way it was?”

No we couldn’t, given I had begged the guy at Goodwill to take the old TV and couldn’t bear to explain to the woman at Costco why I was returning a perfectly good Panasonic. Mom would have to suffer with better viewing quality.

But the question is worth repeating, in light of what we’ve all been experiencing with the COVID-19 crisis, “Can’t we just go back to the way it was?”

I guess we could. That’s what happened after 9/11. But why would we want to? Here’s what I believe we’ve learned collectively, as a nation of 330 million souls—a vision for living a different kind of life. Lessons I beg us not to forget (again).

1. Relationships Matter

I think we would all agree that being locked in with our next of kin has been a bit much, working from home, schooling from home, and playing at home 24/7. But the way we lived before, as family members whose ships barely passed in the night, was ripping our hearts out. Family matters.

Families of choice matter as well. Some of our families are broken beyond repair, or just unrecognizable in this era of interpersonal disintegration. So we reached out to our friends and deepened those bonds with Happy Hour on Zoom, an unheard of practice a mere few weeks ago.

We’re relational beings. That’s how we’re wired. But busyness causes us to forget that, kind of like rushing out the door late for work but without our car keys. Useless! Let’s continue to silence our (not so) smartphones. Let’s continue to share meals. Let’s continue family game night. Let’s continue clinging to the ones whom we love the most.

2. Creativity Counts

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the necessities of the last weeks have mothered many an invention, from near instant virus testing to contactless pizza delivery. It’s been amazing to watch the relentlessly innovative human spirit meet the demands of the moment.


The deadening mantra, “We’ve never done it that way before,” has been broken beyond repair. Good. Let’s not let any of the king’s horses nor any of the king’s men put that Humpty Dumpty back together again. But the innovation we need right now is just in its infancy. The economy of an entire nation, in fact the entire world, needs restarting, and that calls for unprecedented creativity.

It’s time to get back to work, to bring the brightest and best to meet the business challenges before us. No, Gordon Gecko, greed is not good. But real capitalism is not based on greed. It’s based on an offer of service and the mutual exchange of value. No service, no value, no exchange.

So let’s start serving again, with all the creativity our minds can muster, and give from that service both financial support and meaningful work to those who need it most.

3. Laughter Eases a Heavy Heart

I’ve had many good laughs these last few weeks at things like a Zoom rendering of DaVinci’s Last Supper, Chris Mann’s parody of Adele’s “Hello”, and the Family Lockdown Boogie. They’ve all relieved the stress of this difficult time.

Laughter in crisis is not disrespectful. In fact, just the opposite. It’s a sign of emotional maturity. It’s a pure, healthy response that recognizes difficulties do not last forever and waiting to laugh about them is an unnecessary waste. We laugh now because laughter eases a heavy heart.

“America has comported itself as exactly what you thought it would or hoped it would but weren’t sure: compassionate, empathetic, committed, hard-working, creative, and funny as hell,” wrote one of my favorite columnists, Peggy Noonan.

And she’s right. Being funny is right up there with being compassionate, committed, and creative. And now it’s patriotic too!

4. Faith Works

Some of my favorite stories from this crisis are how the faith community is finding ways to get things done. I’m not referring to the misguided few who defied orders and held public services anyway. They don’t represent the thousands and thousands of sincere believers who took this pandemic seriously.

My local congregation, as with so many others, understood that church is not a building but a network of relationships and immediately made the pivot to online services. But they did something else that I’m so very proud of. They collected over 2,000 items of food for the needy in our community during a middle of the week drive-through prayer program.

Pastors, parishioners, pasta, and peanut butter.

Then there was a congregation in central Florida that took this initiative one step further and assembled care packages from items donated by the congregation, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, clean water, and food. Lots of food. They then delivered hundreds of these packages to the needy in their community. A big shout out to the young man who coordinated this effort, Brenden Johnson.

This crisis has stretched us. Undoubtedly. Stretched us beyond belief. It has also stretched our vision of how we could live differently—at home, at work, at church. In the stretching, our vision has grown in ways we never imagined. Don’t let it return to the same size again.

Let’s not go back to the way it was.

Other Great Reads This Week

Here’s what strong leadership looks like in crisis (Guess what? Empathy leads the list.) from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

From Forbes, here’s the number one thing CEOs need from their leaders right now. You guessed it … Empathy (again).

Are you sick of being empathetic yet? Then you need this: Andrew Sobel’s eight ways to improve your empathy.

Best video of the week: Sheltering in place has allowed us to improve our cooking skills, as Charlie Berens demonstrates in the quarantine kitchen.

What’s Up With Me?

My first month on Substack is in the books. What do you think?

The mission of Substack is to help writers pursue work they love, generating income directly from their own audiences, on their own terms. I’m proud to be part of their tribe.

If you like what you're reading, help others be part of my tribe by sharing this newsletter with them, or if you had this article shared with you, sign-up by clicking on the link below. No advertising. No spam. No kidding!

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash