With the first glimmers of spring has come a cautious optimism that the supply chains of imported vaccines will find their way into welcoming arms with increasing speed. A year and more into this wretched pandemic, most of us have been pressed to our various limits, dealing with economic hardship and uncertainty, constant worry about colleagues, friends and loved ones and in all too many cases, heart wrenching loneliness and loss.

Which makes it difficult to talk about “getting back to normal,” when none of us has any real sense of what “normal” is going to look and feel like.

Do you really think gathering around a table for dinners with family and friends is going to be like it was before? Riding a bus downtown to do a bit of shopping or to attend a sports match in a noisy, crowded stadium? Or heading back to your place of work (if it even still exists) to kibbutz with colleagues as you head out for a cheap lunch at what used to be your favourite food court hangout? After a year of lockdown and artificial, virtual collaboration that barely hints at real life interaction, how quickly do you think you’ll be ready to jump back into the pool and get back to your previous levels of confidence and competence? No clue? Welcome to the club.

Each of us has been dealing with our unique challenges and each of us has dealt with them in our unique way. Which means there are going to be some other, new challenges as we reintegrate our new selves into this yet-to-be-defined new normal. Which means we need to think about how we are communicating with one another, whether it’s our colleagues, our employees, our bosses or our customers, let alone friends and family.

Among the cardinal rules of effective communications is that what you say isn’t necessarily what others hear. Spend too much time on your own or in limited contact with like-minded others (through months of Zoom calls, for instance) and you’re at risk of developing a kind of tunnel vision (sometimes referred to as an “awareness bubble”) that can produce dangerous blind spots to other perspectives, other needs. 

A recent example: during the Grammy Awards, an excited winner during her acceptance speech remarked that while it had been a pretty tough year, “we got through this.” Well, true enough, unless you were connected to the roughly 2.6 million others who didn’t. Nice statue though.

We really don’t have a good idea yet what will be required– emotionally, socially, professionally– to re-engage in a vaccinated world. We don’t have any idea whether there will even be a post-covid world. Getting to either of those places is going to require careful reflection, empathetic listening, honest conversation, deep self-reflection. It’s going to take a lot more listening than talking, sometimes hearing some hard truths. It’s going to require looking at things in some very different ways than we’re used to. And likely most of all, it’s going to take time.