Do we still remember that just a few weeks ago, without batting an eyelid, we ate a piece of the birthday cake over which the birthday boy or girl had blown out the candles? And now we get goose bumps if we only have to imagine it.
Almost two months have simply turned the calibration, which we should be worried about, upside down. As a child in the 1970s, I found it perfectly normal in our car – a VW station wagon – to ride along in the back of the loading area sitting on just one air mattress and sliding back and forth with it every time we braked or started off. Safety belts or head rests in the car were absent, as were safety seats for children.
Only a few years ago, it didn’t seem to bother us that we cigarette smokers were sitting next to us in a restaurant or coffee house. We didn’t waste a thought on it. And who didn’t just reach out for a hand to greet them?
A pandemic like this forces us to rethink assumptions and self-evident facts. What we now immediately notice about seat belts and smoking in the restaurant – the former being absent, the latter being present – took us years before the new behavior had become self-evident. The danger did not seem immediate to us.
However, the dangers of a pandemic can be seen immediately. At first, putting on a protective mask seemed to us to be a bit exaggerated and embarrassing, but now, after two months, people in the supermarket and even in public seem to us to be criminally negligent when we see them without a mask. Our arc around them becomes even wider than normal.
We will experience such behavioral changes in other things as well. Driverless cars are an exceptional phenomenon today and cause astonishment and concern. There is nobody behind the wheel! Are they safe? In ten years’ time we will be worried when we see a person behind the wheel of such a vehicle.
And that there was a time when we were stuck in traffic jams with millions of other working people every day or had to travel close to our workplaces on public transport, we will look back with a smile. Now that many are forced to work from home, and yet it works unexpectedly well and seems less stressful (if there were no children at home), we will soon no longer need to be in the office to work.
And thus avoid having to eat a birthday cake a colleague has just blown out the candles over.