Malorie Blackman: A New Normal

The Noughts & Crosses author on what the Covid-19 crisis is revealing about us – and what kind of a world we might hope for when we come through the other side.

Malorie Blackman Covid-19 essay
Tim Lane / Penguin

All crises bring out the best and the worst in us. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed compassion and sacrifice, friendship and humour. We have also witnessed shameless profiteering, blatant selfishness and some of those with a lot calling on those with a lot less to shoulder more than their fair share of the financial burden.

What this pandemic has revealed more than anything else is how interconnected we all are. How the fate of people on the other side of the world – or indeed, the other side of the street - may have an impact on all our lives and our sense of well-being. No country is an island. No island is an island. No person is an island. We are one large human community sharing the same planet. This pandemic has highlighted the fact that long-term individualism just doesn’t work. We have all had a stark lesson in the need to embrace community. We need to look out for and look after each other because if one hurts, then we all hurt. 

The Covid-19 virus has revealed those who serve others and those who seek to serve only themselves.  We can now fully appreciate the true worth of doctors, nurses, refuse collectors, cleaners, teachers, supermarket shelf stackers, food pickers, farmers, firefighters, care home workers, transport workers, delivery drivers and all public service workers. They are the ones who have been asked to step up and look after the rest of us. They are the ones risking not just themselves but potentially their loved ones to see to the care of others. It has become starkly apparent who society cannot do without in times of crisis. 

'Public sector pay increases were voted down to the cheers of too many politicians'

It seems to me that after this pandemic is well and truly over we all have a choice. Do we go back to the system we had before, where individualism and ‘pulling up the ladder’ were applauded and lauded, or do we try to adopt a more caring, communal attitude, understanding that the fate of our neighbours is inexorably linked to our own? The Covid-19 crisis has proved that the latter is not just possible, not just desirable, but necessary for our mutual long-term societal survival.

My hope is that we continue to view our neighbours as potential friends and allies, rather than probable enemies.  My hope is that we as a society no longer listen to those who wish to spread hatred and division to suit their own political and economic ends.  My hope is that we no longer accept that the challenges of tackling homelessness, poverty and lack of opportunity are to be filed under the heading insurmountable. We’ve seen in recent weeks that where there is a societal will which works for the good of the many, there is always a way.    

My fervent hope is that the appreciation we currently feel for public sector workers continues once this current pandemic crisis is over. Let’s hope that all strata of society appreciate the need for public sector workers to be adequately remunerated for the work they do, rather than having their pay increase voted down in parliament to the cheers of too many politicians. We need a new way of thinking and being. The old normal wasn’t working for everyone. In fact, it only worked for a select few.  It’s time to create and embrace a new normal.

Perspectives is a series of essays from Penguin authors offering their response to the Covid-19 crisis. A donation of £10,000 towards booksellers affected by Covid-19 has been made on behalf of the participants. Read more of the essays here.

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