Many of us remember a grandparent scarred by the Great Depression — still prone to collecting coupons, toothpaste, and cash underneath the mattress.
In these unprecedented times our generation may well be shaped by our Covid-19 experience in ways we can’t yet imagine. I picture my daughter describing me in the future: “That’s my mother. She hoards toilet paper, lentils, and cases of oat milk, just in case another pandemic hits.”
Those who lived between the Great Depression and World War II became the so-called Greatest Generation, forever altered by hardship, shortage; a brutal war and a shared sacrifice. Trauma leaves its mark — culturally and, some believe, epigenetically. We will be the generation shaped by both the trauma of a pandemic and the landscape-shifting onset of climate change.
We’re each coping with the loss of normalcy here in our domestic bunkers, on a conspicuously sliding scale of privilege and wellness. When we come out on the other side, we’ll face new, uncomfortable realities. Will we grow? Will we devolve? Will this be the cultural recalibration so many of us crave?
The world is going to look different in a few months
There are the obvious outcomes: We’ll likely be more skilled hand-washers, pick our noses less, keep hand sanitizer in stock, avoid cruise ships, and have a new appreciation for medical employees and school teachers. Our 401(k)s, if we had them, will be smaller. Many of the businesses we once frequented may be shuttered: yoga studios, restaurants, florists, movie theaters, book stores.
On a larger scale, we’ll be forced to reckon with the ways privilege has functioned as a safety net. We’ll witness the ways a pandemic taxes those already burdened with illness and financial stress, and it’ll be hard to ignore the tendency of governments to bail out corporations faster than people.
We’ll be better able to spot the helpers among the opportunists and cowards — crisis tends to make that distinction clear. And we’ll be forced to ask ourselves hard questions about our own generosity and empathy.