There is an expectation that the COVID-19 pandemic will negatively affect every aspect of society but, based on other 20th century pandemics, that may not actually be the case. Previous pandemics, including the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, have been the catalysts for positive change in everything from urban planning to public health. Still, planning for the future can both create anxiety and give some semblance of control in an otherwise unpredictable situation.
Some experts believe the whole of society will forever be changed by COVID. They include in their predictions substantial changes in interpersonal relationships, childhood development, social inequality, and that the world will inevitably face civil unrest and chaos.
Other, more optimistic futurists predict a brighter path forward. They believe that out of the disruption in daily life will rise new opportunities for better healthcare for seniors, an increased appreciation of nature, and a more critical eye toward misinformation.
Some experts even believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will foster a greater connectedness, increased social solidarity, and positive political change.
Igor Grossman, a social scientist, founded a project called ‘The World After COVID.’ In this project, Grossman and his team looked to 57 world leaders in the behavioral and social sciences and documented their forecasts in a series of interviews. The results were surprising to some. Though the pandemic created negative effects for much of society, many experts predicted new opportunities for positive change and increased knowledge.
Many of these experts expressed that our recent shared struggles may bring us closer together on the community level as well as globally. In her interview, Valerie Tiberius from the University of Minnesota stated that the pandemic would foster political change for a more inclusive society as we are better aware of our mutual dependence.
Additionally, since the pandemic limited our ability to interact with friends and family for an extended period of time, our understanding of the importance of social connection has increased. People will be placing a much greater value on relationships post-COVID, and that these relationships offer both psychological and physical health benefits.
The interviews by Grossman and his team were not all positive, however. Some scientists believe that the future will hold much more political unrest and that existing political division will increase. Countries and opposing political parties will blame each other for various problems and will continue to fail to work together to find solutions. They also felt that there would be an increase in racial divide and prejudice and that people would cling more closely to groups with which they identify while dismissing outsiders’ views.
When arriving at any crossroads, a decision must be made regarding which path to choose. We, as a global society, have a choice. We can choose to work together for a brighter future, or we can allow petty differences to divide us. We can choose to create positive political and social change that includes equality for all, or we can promote a society where some people matter more than others. We can embrace critical thinking and not give in to fear and propaganda, or we can allow the vocal minority to dictate our beliefs. We can create a society of compassion and diversity where our differences can make us just as strong as our similarities, or we can hate those that are different. The choice is ours.