To be reasonable
On the phrase to watch for 2022: Reasonable accommodations
It's arbitrary to think that the world changes just because the year on the calendar has rolled over. We treat years, decades, and even centuries as discrete units in social history -- even though it's mostly an accident of history that most people will call this 2022 rather than 5782 or 4355 or 52. Yet we still do it, with nods to the 18th Century, the 60s, or Y2K as coherent historical units, and the urge to do it remains strong with every new year.
■ At least one important idea is bound to anchor a theme for the year, and the early indications are that the theme for 2022 will be "reasonable accommodations". The phrase has its origin as a matter of workplace treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it deserves mainstream use as we seek ways to figure out more broadly how to behave when any kind of "normal" becomes "different".
■ The obvious flagship issue will be the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether the omicron wave is what tips the disease from pandemic to endemic or not, we are still far from a consensus on what ordinary, routine behavior is to be expected, and what conditions will call for "reasonable accommodations".
■ The US Capitol physician, for instance, wants N95 masks on every face, and for most Capitol workers to stay home. And large employers with nationwide footprints are having major disruptions to their plans to get employees back into their offices after nearly two years away. We have reached a stage where things have been abnormal for so long that all kinds of environments are going to have to reckon with what will constitute "normal" and what will stand out as a "reasonable accommodation" in the future.
■ But it's not only the mutation of a virus that is forcing hard questions about what counts as normal and how far those definitions can reach. Can countries take exception to egregious fundamental human-rights abuses in an Olympics host country without undermining the principle of neutrality in sports? Can transgender athletes smash records in their sports without causing undue second-order consequences for their teammates and competitors? Can insurance and government emergency-response programs encourage people to take precautions to protect their property and maintain adequate coverage when unprecedented fires of mysterious origins can wipe out hundreds of homes in hours?
■ Deciding what constitutes an agreeable consensus definition of "normal" for a community and which accommodations for things that fall outside those norms are "reasonable" (and which are unreasonable) is likely to end up being tough work. The many incremental steps usually required to reach a consensus are really hard to take when deviating from a smaller, more tribal hard-line orthodoxy is a fast track to being ostracized or even threatened with violence. Figuring out that we need both agreeable "normals" and reasonable accommodations alike is likely to be a defining theme of the year to come.