We’re hearing a lot about a “new normal” after the pandemic wanes.

I like looking ahead because we are in a position to change what’s in front of us. I also like looking back because if we interpret history properly, we can learn a great deal. Right now, our heads are on a swivel like spectators at a tennis match because we’re working our way through some unknown territory, and different people have different opinions on how to best go about it until the dust settles.

I’m not much of a futurist, but I’ve always appreciated the attitude that says the future will be what we make it.

After hearing the term “new normal” so often, I decided not to write about that. The term feels inexact, because it assumes what we were experiencing before had been in some way “normal.” I’m not sure there’s ever been a “normal,” because life changes in so many ways all the time.

We do need to be thinking about whether some of the things we’ve been doing in the short term will carry over into the long term. I think much of it should — once stores open at full capacity, restaurants are using 100 percent of their space, and people deem it safe to assemble in group settings.

Whether you think it’s much too soon or it’s already past time, society is venturing out of isolation. It also provides an opportunity to take stock of things we’re doing well. We need to keep caring for each other. We need to keep showing appreciation for those who extend courtesy to others — those who get paid to do so, but especially to those who aren’t. We need to slow down and enjoy life. Stop and smell the roses, if you will.

We should also take stock of what we’ve truly missed these past two months, and endeavor to do what we can to ensure that all the things we value most don’t disappear when the pandemic ends.

Among those valued things are the numerous small businesses that make communities special and unique. They don’t have the deep pockets that national and international corporations have, and they don’t have the teams of professional people available to pursue governmental assistance programs. They have little time at the end of the day to try to reinvent how they do business in a retail climate that forces them to operate at a fraction of capacity.

Recovery programs designed to save jobs help the employees, but their jobs won’t be around next year if businesses can’t cover other expenses.

Think of the places in town you like to patronize. Perhaps you’re one of their best customers. Maybe you just drop by occasionally. Regardless, imagine what our community would lose if they disappeared.

The U.S. Small Business Association and the U.S. Department of Labor reported these positive impacts of small, independent businesses on local economies:

• Local businesses are more likely to utilize other local businesses such as banks, service providers, and farms.

• For every $100 you spend at local businesses, $68 will stay in the community.

• Independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales to the community in which they operate than chain competitors. Independent restaurants return more than two times as much money per dollar of sales than national restaurant chains.

• Small businesses employed 77 million Americans and accounted for 65 percent of new jobs over a recent multi-year period.

In addition to helping build the local economy, there are also notable intangible benefits that come from supporting businesses in your local community:

• Local businesses are owned and operated by your neighbors.

• Local businesses are quick to support their communities and donate to non-profits.

Shoppers can’t always find what they need at a local business, but they should try. Think of it as voting, with every dollar you spend being a vote to keep that business open.

This will be a difficult year for most businesses. For some, survival is at stake.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.