In late April, we sent out a survey to get a sense of how the New Dream community was adjusting to the new reality of coronavirus. In answering the survey, we encouraged participants to reflect on how this unique moment in time has led to deeper questioning regarding what we prioritize and consume, both as individuals and as a society.
Our hope was to surface ideas and tools, spark new inquiries, and support greater compassion and empathy for others, as we all move through these uncertain times. We heard from nearly 70 individuals, offering varying perspectives on “our emerging normal.” The following sections summarize the overall responses received.
By far, the majority of respondents said they missed in-person interactions, both with family and friends and with work colleagues. Several noted the benefits of online communications (Zoom, FaceTime), which enabled them to keep in closer touch, but also the deficiencies of these platforms, including the absence of “naturally paced conversations that don’t cut out due to poor WiFi connections.” Many struggled with the lack of physical, human connection, including hugs, pats on the back, smiles (not hidden behind a mask), and “the immediacy of laughter between people sitting together.”
The lockdowns led several respondents to reconsider their proximity to loved ones and the need for long-distance travel: “I miss being able to visit with my family across the country. Zoom meetings are really not enough. This makes me realize that I want to live closer to them rather than relying on air travel for visits.” Respondents also pointed to the challenges of intergenerational communication, such as keeping in touch with less-tech savvy family members who lived in retirement homes, or being able to visit with grandchildren.
Within their communities, respondents said they missed face-to-face group gatherings, including church meetings, support groups, yoga and exercise groups, game nights, playing music with others, children’s play groups, and generally getting together with friends. As one respondent noted, “Zoom, Google groups, etc. are wonderful, but they are kind of like junk food. Afterward you are full, but something is missing.” Some mentioned the challenges of living in less-connected neighborhoods and of having to homeschool and solo parent in the absence of “adult conversation.”
Among outside events, respondents missed going to the movies, attending concerts, and going out dancing, which one person noted “was my decompression and sanity keeper.” Many missed recreational activities such as going hiking or to the park, swimming, visiting fitness or recreation centers, and trips to the library (noted by many respondents). Others said they missed civic and political activities such as volunteering at the local thrift store and engaging in activism, including in-person protest and postcard writing with friends to encourage voter registration.
Food played a prominent role in people’s responses, with many saying they missed shared meals and eating out with family and friends, visiting the local coffee shop, and, in general, “sitting in cafes surrounded by other people reading, writing, enjoying a drink with friends.” Several respondents said they missed being able to purchase groceries and to “find the food and necessary items I need,”
Several respondents pointed to some of the less-tangible things they missed, including personal freedom (“just being able to go out when and where you want to”), freedom of choice, and “being able to leave and go outside freely without a mask.” Some missed mobility in general, including access to public transportation. Several people missed living in a less fearful world, noting “I don’t like feeling fearful of everyone I pass” and “I see the same people when I go out but their usual friendliness is overlaid with a fear that seems to only create more distance.”
Notably, not a single person said they missed shopping in stores, with the exception of farmers markets and grocery and thrift stores. One essential worker noted missing “extra days off, self-care, and recovery days.”
For respondents who were able to spend more time at home, many noted the value of rest, more time, and a generally slower pace of life. Responses included:
On a personal level, the lockdowns gave some respondents a better understanding of their personalities and needs. For example, some people noted: “I realized that I’m an extrovert,” “I need the day-to-day interactions with other people,” and “isolation creates unhappy thoughts.” Meanwhile, respondents who identified themselves as introverts pointed to their appreciation for quiet, solitude, having their own space, and spending time just with immediate family. However, many self-identified introverts and “homebodies” observed that they still missed human contact and interaction with other people, as well as “being out in the world and feeling useful.” A few were surprised by this discovery.
Many respondents relayed that they had more time to reflect on their own strengths and weakness. They became more aware of their personal resilience, creativity, adaptability, self-reliance, optimism, and gratitude. Some realized that they had been working in toxic and overly stressful environments and needed to “forge a new way to serve my community.” Others recognized the negative effects on their well-being of too much media consumption and “rumination” on the news.
Several respondents made observations about their material needs, realizing that they didn’t need all the “stuff” they thought they did. Comments included:
For many, being in lockdown gave them a new appreciation for their homes, including having more time for home-based projects such as cooking, gardening, and home renovation. One respondent noted: “We are working towards many goals (toddlerdom, remodeling, planting seeds, financial stability, and more) and it is nice to be able to hold all of those ideas in one ‘on-the-ground’ location: HOME.” Others observed that they were happier at home, saying “I would rather stay home than do many of the things I previously did” and “I like my cooking more than eating out."
At a community level, respondents pointed to their greater appreciation for support networks that depend on physical connection, including daycares, soup kitchens, and local thrift stores, which “can help people who are in need, but not if people can’t go to the stores to shop and if the volunteers can’t safely work.” One respondent said the lockdowns reinforced her understanding that “smaller, local, community-based organizations (farms, businesses, etc.) are more nimble, flexible and resilient than large non-community based ones.” Other people observed that, “For the most part tough times bring out the best in people” and “People have surprised me by being so supportive of each other and helping others so much.” One respondent was inspired by the rise in helpfulness but noted that “without a collective focus for how to do this from community or national leadership, individual efforts are scattershot and less effective overall.”
For many respondents, the crisis has exposed inequities in their communities. One person noted, “Our public school system needs a hard reset in order to serve the disadvantaged students.” Many also gained a better understanding of how vulnerable many people are, particularly financially (living paycheck to paycheck, with no savings). One respondent noted: “’Our economy built as it is does not function to protect or support the average worker, the average person. This is not the way I want to live; to work towards what I would like, I need to be practicing it more.” Another lamented: “We all need each other and I wish we lived in a culture that better took care of its most vulnerable.” A few respondents expressed how “lucky” they felt to have financial security.
Not surprisingly, many respondents responded to the immediate crisis, noting that they would try to do a better job preparing for future emergencies and taking health and safety precautions. Many said they would stockpile more necessities (food, toilet paper, N95 masks) as well as manage their finances more mindfully. Health precautions they would take included trying to be more aware or cleanliness/hygiene (including washing hands more often), avoiding large gatherings, doing more social distancing, keeping their kids out of school, combining errands, and in general being more wary of possible contagion.
Respondents noted that they would try to incorporate more balance into their lives, including making time for themselves, taking a day of rest, slowing down, and doing less. Responses included: “I will give myself permission to have non-productive moments”, “I will go easier on myself and not have so many goals,” and “I will make more of an effort not to overcommit.”
Many respondents wanted to continue some of the lifestyle habits they adopted during lockdowns, including driving less, eating out less, drinking less alcohol, and buying and shopping less. In addition, people said they would continue to cook and work at home more, prioritize long walks, grow their own food, sleep more, play instruments, read, do more political work, attend more events online, and not watch as much news. One respondent observed, “I will work to make sure that the new normal is not a repeat of an old normal that was unjust, and out of harmony with the environment.”
Many respondents said that, moving forward, they would not take as much for granted and would be more appreciative of what they have, in part out of “a heightened sense of my and others’ mortality.” They expressed gratitude for people who work in grocery and drug stores, and for the ability to have freedom and contact with others in general. Several said they would be more willing to engage strangers in conversation and would try to stay in better touch with people, including calling them on the phone. Many expressed the desire to show greater empathy toward others and to “continue thinking outside myself to what someone else might be needing and what I can do to help them.” Some said they would try not to prioritize work over family, and would give priority to the things they are passionate about.
Many respondents said they would do more to give back to their local communities, particularly by more regularly supporting local businesses and food providers, buying local products and services, and shopping locally (“Our supply chains are so messed up.”) Others committed to getting to know their neighbors and to enhancing the local environment, including by maintaining nearby wild areas, removing invasive plants, and encouraging native plants.
Several respondents said they would apply more reflection to their lives, including “questioning the corporate media/government narrative even more” and “taking baby steps towards actions that are brave, uncomfortable and vulnerable.” Other responses included: “I will think more about what I need vs. what I want” and “I will trust my instincts and not believe everything I am told.”
Many respondents mentioned greater spiritual awareness during the lockdowns, noting that they had more time for prayer, contemplation, reflection, and meditation. One person noted, “With so many of the ‘little things’ in life feeling like giant blessings, I’ve found joy in celebrating them in a spiritual way. Faith has been a source of peace and presence both.” Another wrote: “I am a religious person but I believe I have become more aware of the spiritual—of inspirations that come from outside myself that move me to act.” A third respondent observed, “My relationship with time is changing, which I had wanted for a long time but this situation has allowed it to shift."
Personal growth also took the form of self-reflection. Respondents pointed to greater awareness of their own adaptability and self-reliance, their ability to deal with anxiety, and their ability to let go of control and expectations—to "go with the flow," and that it’s “okay being not okay.” One person noted, “I have learned to stop trying to predict what may happen all the time, I did this a lot but the current situation has taught me that anything could happen so there is no point in worrying as you just can't predict everything.” Some gained awareness of the need for greater self-love and self-care (including eating good food, exercising, and “checking in and giving myself credit for the work I do”). However, one person observed, “I keep looking for something I've gained out of all this, but all I can see is what I’ve lost.”
Many respondents said they have a deeper sense of gratitude for what they have, including their family and friends, their ability to work from home, the spiritual life, and the natural world. One person observed: “I’m very affected by the positive effect this has had on the non-human world. I have developed more humility about the proper place of humans in the global scheme of things.” Another wrote: “I really appreciate how human this has made everyone seem. What I mean is that we are all struggling with some form of interruption and this has helped me connect with colleagues and peers on a deeper level.” Some respondents said they were deepening their relationships with family members, letting go of judgement more, and “caring a lot less about what others think.”
In terms of hobbies and skills, respondents experienced growth in a variety of ways. Many said they were taking online courses, listening to podcasts, playing instruments, reading and learning languages, digging into literature and philosophy, and honing practical skills such as cooking and baking, sewing and needlework, food gardening, herbalism and wildcrafting. A teacher noted growth “in my efforts to reach out to families and in my ability to use technology to engage students,” and another respondent observed: “I took on a leadership role shortly before this started, so I am getting a crash course in emergency leadership. It's challenging but also invigorating.”
Some people used their time at home to sort through their old papers and “stuff” and to undertake decluttering challenges. One respondent noted: “I've been thinking a lot about how ‘the less you have, the less you have to lose.’ Having less stuff makes me feel less vulnerable. And makes me feel more nimble and resilient.”
Not everyone felt a sense of personal growth, however. Some respondents had more negative reactions, saying, “I feel so non-productive” or “I was more hopeful before.” Others noted that the pandemic “has been a window to reality”, making them realize “the complete shallowness of character and depravity of the ‘haves’” and that “everyone is vulnerable to disease, even the healthy and ‘fit.” One respondent noted: “In my opinion, this situation is our overtaxed and overwhelmed earth trying to readjust from human overpopulation, human overbuilding and pollution, human abuse of wildlife and the environment.”
Overwhelmingly, respondents said that they would like to see less driving and car travel overall, and some expressed a desire for more walkable neighborhoods and cities. Many people did not want to resume work-related travel, including commuting and rush hours, business travel, conferences and conventions, and “having to be in the office for no real reason.” Many preferred working remotely and at home. Reasons they cited included gaining more hours in their day, avoiding congestion and traffic, reducing stress, and cutting emissions and fossil fuel use. Among the comments:
Respondents had mixed views on air travel. Many were in favor of reducing unnecessary flying, such as for conferences and business travel. One person advocated for less “flying to other countries when you haven’t explored your own,” and another said, “we need to find a way to limit tourism.” But some respondents had more nuanced perspectives, for example: “I’m torn about this. I like not traveling and staying close to home, but I’m also realizing how many things I rely upon that are not close to my home. So while I’d like to see less air travel and more local experiences a part of my life in the future, I want to maintain a level of contact with loved ones in other states.”
Many respondents expressed a desire to move away from long working hours and to achieve greater work/life balance. One noted: “We don’t need to produce so much. So much work is dribble, just pushing things around, especially office work. 30 hour weeks would mean more people can be hired, meanwhile workers would have more free time to tend to their personal wellness and the wellness of the community overall.” Another observed: “I have appreciated more free time in my life and hope not to return to the culture of busyness that is prevalent in the US. We need to value more time to connect, think, and be still in meaningful ways, not just going, going, going.”
Respondents said they wanted to see a reduction in environmentally destructive behaviors, and many pointed to the lower pollution in many cities during lockdowns. They lamented the increase in the use of disposable plastics and were in favor of using more washable, reusable items as well as eating less meat and using less fossil fuels. One person observed: “This it tough. It’s awesome that closing parks and beaches lets nature thrive. Yet there is no way that beaches and parks should be closed forever. People aren’t responsible on their own, so legislation has to enforce good behavior. Higher taxes on gas, higher fees for plastic delivery containers, etc.”
Many respondents did not want to go back to an economy based on overconsumption. Some said they would like to see less “casual, mindless,” and non-essential shopping as well as less “materialism, greed, competition, idiotic distractions, reality TV, fast food, and corporate US control.” Many were in favor of changes to how we eat, with more growing and cooking food at home, less eating out, and fewer “fast food chains, industrial agriculture, corporate anything and profits before people.” Other people said they did not want to see as many “mega-sports activities” and “overpaid sports people doing their thing just to keep the masses entertained.” Some pointed to problems of overpopulation and of people “trying to become richer when one has enough.”
Some people noted that they would like to see changes in how children are educated, and that there needs to be greater appreciation and support for teachers and caregivers. One respondent observed that her grandchildren “have all done better studying at home,” which “is an observation about our schools.” Another said: “I am not satisfied with our teachers or the quality of teaching so I do not want to bring that back. I prefer a better education from home!” Another person pointed to the challenge of overscheduling young people, saying: “I’m really hoping that taking time out from everyday pressure to rush, to fret about getting everything done, to give children every possible experience, will make some question whether they really want it all back. I think we need to acknowledge that most people turn out fine even if they don’t go to top colleges, even if they don’t take four sports, etc. The collective matters, not just your right to be on top.”
Many respondents pointed to the vulnerability experienced by many people and said they would like to see more equity, fairness, and support for less-resourced populations. There were calls for universal basic income, universal health care, intact safety nets, job training, support for local businesses, keeping the homeless off the streets, and stimulus packages that don’t bail out corporations at the expense of workers. Respondents also mentioned the need for greater support for childcare workers, caregivers, and domestic workers, as well as for the sick and older populations. One person noted, “There needs to be acceptance that inequality is structured into society, not about individual character, and we are all responsible for its perpetuation.”
Several people put forth visions for alternative systems. One wrote: “Now that the inequities we have long labored under have been brought into stark relief, I hope we move toward a more regulated capitalism that values people and the planet, and away from the unregulated corporate capitalism that underlies racism, patriarchy, oppressions of all kinds, and the destruction of our one and only planet.” Another said, “On a societal level there needs to be a reinvigoration of small local business, especially production of local necessities for daily life. My city is reliant on tourism and because of that many small businesses are closing, and service workers are left in the dust. Job training for renewable and closing-loop sectors would help us to refocus on local needs and support the economic well-being of our community.”
Many respondents said they gained a greater understanding of our interconnectedness, as well as our collective vulnerability, as the virus travelled swiftly around the globe. For one person, however, the bigger insight was actually “the continued denial of interconnectedness, to the point of being willing to risk the lives of people deemed subhuman in some way by the powers that be.” Other respondents pointed to our technological interconnectedness, noting positively that, “The fact that our technology can really connect us in ways that many generations had not realized is quite wonderful.”
Many respondents were surprised at how quickly some changes were put in place, and by the high degree of community consensus about what needed to be done. They noted: “I was happy to see governments and most people take quick and united action” and “There is so much red tape usually and this situation has shown that things can be done speedily when needed.” One person observed: “We can quickly pare down our whole economy to just the essentials if necessary. The government can quickly mobilize trillions of dollars when it sees it’s worthwhile.”
Respondents also expressed surprise at how quickly people stepped up to protect others (not just themselves), including by wearing masks in public and maintaining social distance. They pointed to the goodness, kindness, and altruism of neighbors and others who shared things like food and toilet paper. One person wrote, “People seemed to become more compassionate and empathetic toward others compared to what I saw before.” Respondents also pointed to the ingenuity and creativity in their communities, including “teachers holding drive-by parades for their students, encouraging signs for delivery people in windows, mass mask-making for medical personnel, etc.” One person observed: “It's amazing how quickly people fall apart when their routine is disrupted, but also how flexible they can be.”
Many respondents expressed admiration for nurses and other essential workers. One person noted: “It made me realize who the ‘essential’ workers really are! Not highly-paid execs, but grocery store workers and postal carriers!” Another respondent observed: “We are most reliant on the least among us. Those working mainly non-union and low-wage jobs are ‘essential’ workers, but we treat them like garbage with no real supports. We need to match the spoken appreciation for those workers with actual protections (healthcare, job security, living wages, etc.) that reflect their value to our society.”
At the same time, there was a recognition of the “dark underbelly” that the pandemic has exposed. One respondent pointed to the hoarding of food and other supplies, triggered by fear, and observed that “It seems that in this country it’s everyone for themselves.” Another observed: “the many who have taken advantage of the situation, either financially or politically, is heartbreaking, though not shocking.”
Some respondents were surprised how politicized the response to lockdowns was, and that “even during a pandemic, the left and right are still nitpicking.” They expressed concern about “how unqualified our leaders are,” about “people not doing what is recommended to not overload the healthcare system”, and about “people placing money/earning over suffering and lives.” However, one person observed: “I really do believe there has been an increase in unity, unfortunately we only see continued division on the news and in social media comments. So, we have to note the little stories of unity and realize the differences between perception and reality.”
Many respondents expressed surprise at the lack of economic and social safety nets in the United States and the broken nature of many systems. They pointed to “the utter fragility of our current economic system,” and one person admitted, “I didn’t realize how many businesses, nonprofits, and even families operate month-to-month with no cushion.” Another noted that, “If you are a person that is single, does not have any supportive family, does not have a STEM job, you are pretty much screwed in this society, and you are on your own.”
One respondent observed, “What's most surprised me is how many people are surprised by what they are seeing.” Another wrote: “I have been surprised and angered… how woefully blind so many people are to the struggle of the working class, the essential workers, the invisible workers. Even family members of mine have said, ‘I just want things to go back to normal.’ Well I don’t, normal wasn't good for myself and my co-workers. We are struggling, and we have been.”
Some respondents were surprised at the vulnerabilities in the food supply. They pointed to the fragility of the food system and the need to invest more in local sustainability, resources, and food supplies. Several said they didn’t realize how specialized the supply chain was—with some items going to markets and some to restaurants and institutions—and were surprised at the disconnect between farmers having to destroy some of their crops, while at the same time people couldn’t find the items they needed at the store.
Respondents also said they were surprised about the disfunction in the healthcare system, including the lack of hospital beds and of personal protective equipment for frontline workers, and how “woefully unprepared the federal government has been to handle this crisis.” One person observed: “There are clearly ‘have’ and ‘have-nots,’ and I don’t think our federal government was supporting those folks the way they should. It has been interesting to see our supply chains crumble under all this. We need to rethink our economy.”
Many respondents mentioned stories of hardship, including one person who had put on hold plans to start a new business, and another who shared the experience of a newly homeless 67-year-old man. People mentioned stories about the grief and sadness associated with death and loss that many are feeling, especially when the dying cannot be surrounded by family. On a different note, one respondent shared a story she had heard of a woman whose dog had been desperately looking around for movement (other dogs? people?) during their evening walk, and it broke her heart
Respondents also shared uplifting stories of people doing creative and extraordinary things to help others. They ranged from stories of a woman offering free dance sessions online, to kids writing chalk messages on sidewalks, to drive-by birthdays and Easter egg hunts in people’s windows. There were also stories of people who had stepped up (often at risk to themselves) to provide supplies, food, masks, and even their stimulus checks to essential workers and vulnerable populations. Respondents shared stories of setting up a temporary pet-food pantry to help the unemployed, working with local farms to distribute produce, and helping undocumented friends. One person observed: “I never used to see parents simply playing with their kids around my apartment complex. It’s been so nice to see moms and dads throwing a ball with their kids outside or just skateboarding in the parking lot or drawing with chalk on the sidewalks.”
Many people mentioned the stories of positive changes in the environment and natural world, including the improved water clarity in Venice canals, sea turtles mating on beaches, and reductions in air pollution. One respondent told the story of starting a wildflower reseeding project in the neighborhood, and another said they had planted a native flower garden on the front lawn to attract pollinators.