Sonal Murali – India
With the arrival of Coronavirus over15 months ago now, everything has changed. Just a few weeks ago, all of us were living our usual busy lives. And then we slowly watched our world go off its axis – slowly but determinedly. The scale of change that Coronavirus has endangered is of mammoth proportions. Initially it was a mere health crisis and now it has impacted every sphere of human activity, affecting us socially, psychologically and economically, calling for an imminent restructuring of the global economic order. We do not know what its far-reaching impact would be. The suffering and personal losses of different kinds have been tremendous. The imperative now is to safeguard our lives and our livelihoods. However lessons will have to be learnt and priorities will have to be re-drawn for us collectively.
One of the biggest challenges it has posed is that five months into this epidemic and even basic information is still unclear. Each day brings some new information and shock. New possibilities emerge. Leaders are making decisions that impact entire populations based on what might be termed as ‘guesses’ by the posterity. Ashley Arabasadi, a policy adviser at the US-based institute Management Sciences for Health said, ‘We are flying the plane as it is being built.’
It is too soon to say what the future will look like. As the world waits with bated breath the arrival of Coronavirus vaccine, humankind has gone through a range of phases. Starting with feeling the curtailment of freedom it has now impacted all areas of our lives. As the reality of Coronavirus sunk deep, country after country took control measures, some of which may well become a way of life post Covid-19. ‘A New Normal’, phrase was coined to label the new reality. We watched our lifestyle fall apart till we were left with bare essentials and it dawned on us that we do not need much and that need further got downgraded to living a minimalistic existence. Confined within the four walls of our homes, the things we had accumulated lost their charm, whereas the things that we had taken for granted moved up in our scale of priorities.
Coronavirus compelled people to look at their biggest concerns and hopes. While the business houses were using terms such as Resilience, Reimagination and Return, at individual levels, on one hand, issues of surveillance and civil liberties came up for the informed, educated and the privileged and on the other, a sizable chunk of the population crumbled, those at the lowest rung of society, the invisible mass of people who became expendables.
Almost no nation has been spared as the coronavirus swept around the world. With every extension of the lockdown, people accepted the forced retreat. For many the world did not just shrink to the four walls of our homes but it became 2D from 3D and they were soon ‘Zooming’ away. The days spent at home became a blur and gradually indistinguishable. For many it became like a detoxification and catharsis to face one’s own issues and relate with oneself and others.
It is the very first time that people did not need any spiritual teacher to tell them that the entire world is interdependent and we are interconnected. People realized that the crisis calls for a global response and that cannot happen without global solidarity. At individual level just observing social distancing and participating in one of the many online meditation / healing sessions itself has the potential to help others.
Just by being in the house and not engaging with the outer world in a hectic manner, brought some rhythm back into the lives of people. What they experienced had some wholesomeness in it. They have liked this new way of being and hopefully they will continue with it. At the same time realizing that life without social distancing, quarantines, masks, biometric bracelets, and school closures is far far away.
Will there be drastic changes in the way we live and what we value? What kind of society will be required to withstand the future outbreaks? When it is impossible to predict what the world will look like in next week, or next year, our foresight gives way. Given the tsunami like impact of the virus, it might be difficult to imagine that things would go back to normal after any crisis of such proportions.
Yuval Noah Harari, a well-known historian and author says that though there might be changes at some level, at the fundamental level, human beings do not change. History bears evidence to the same after Black Death and Influenza. He says that at the fundamental level a human being has two masters, Pleasure and Pain. So if we are looking for a huge shift in consciousness that is unlikely to happen, albeit large-scale social and behavioral changes will follow out of necessity. Lot of fear-based behavior modifications is not proven to be sustainable as per the Yale School of Medicine health psychologist. The perspectives gained at individual level may change lives for some.
Perspective on Material Wealth and true happiness
As weeks went by, we realized that we do not need much to live. We need actually rather little to go on reasonably and comfortably living with our lives. Our relentless consumption ground to a halt. Covid-19 brought out the emptiness in our lives. During this forced retreat, it was not possible to fill it up with noise, activity or things. Realization that material wealth does not convert into inner peace and happiness, is one of the biggest lessons learnt. In absence of external noise and pressures, we became aware of simple joys of living, cooking a meal or watching a sunset from the window. Impromptu singing from the balcony and jamming sessions were reported from many parts of the world. The pandemic brought people together though physically distant. We got to know our neighbours and realized that we are all the same, having the same fears and same aspirations.
Life Questions and Reflections
Sam Osherson, a Professor of Psychology says that Covid does not care about money. During this crisis, for many the emotional well-being took priority over material wealth. Money did not make one feel secure. The meaning of what is ‘enough’ changed. Generally what is enough is answered with ‘more’. What made one feel safe was not what she had accumulated, but staying at home, wearing mask and washing of hands. It is the common good that started determining one’s own well-being. The realization came that my own well-being is intrinsically connected with the well-being of others. I can no longer secure my own lifeboat unless everybody’s lifeboat is secured.
What happens in a remote corner of the world can potentially impact the entire mankind. We have a heightened awareness of the ways in which one person’s actions can affect another’s. The coronavirus connected us with our shared vulnerability which is symbolized by the mask. Wearing a mask has a two way function. I do not infect you, though I might be asymptomatic and similarly you do not affect me.
This crisis has made us appreciate the social infrastructures of support and care. As supply chains snapped, we became aware of all the invisible people on whom we depend. The cops on the street and the health care workers were easy to acknowledge and clap for. But then there were a whole lot of other invisible people, the drivers, the labors, vendors, delivery boys, maids, technicians and the list can go on. The interdependency became clear. Not just that they depend upon me, they are an integral part of my life. What do I actually owe them? And it is them that have stepped up now for the rest of us. The unconscionable amount of suffering among the same people has also come in plain sight. We have realized that common good is healthier than ‘me’ or ‘mine’.
A crisis of global proportions needs a global solution. After SARS, in 2007 a set of international regulations came into force that made the groundwork for global cooperation. However, as Covid-19 began to spread, these regulations were ignored and the global governance tools were thrown out thereby weakening the world’s response. The shutdowns and re-openings were not coordinated and thus contributed to the spread of virus. There were countries that diverted medical goods meant for another country by paying more. Add to this, a rise in nationalistic feelings and in isolationism as well as racist behavior and blaming of minorities is seen.
Nations will have to realize that we cannot defeat this virus without effective global co-operation and solidarity. The response has to be pro-active and quick.
Setting the Priorities right
Health and well-being are of paramount importance. As a global body, priorities need to be set right. Healthcare and well-being of people has to be the top agenda. Scientists are telling us that future outbreaks of a pandemic are inevitable and increasing. As of now disproportionate amount is spent on space research and armaments. We need to invest in a well-planned, robust health-care infrastructure.
It took a mere hundred days for the world to shut down and similarly in a matter of months, the lockdowns have had profound impact on the environment. We have now clear blue skies, cleaner rivers, fresh air and more birdcalls to greet us every morning. Rapid healing of the ozone layer makes a direct connection that the way we live is badly messed up. Starting with a considerable decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in China as the pandemic began; the trend continued the pandemic’s spread across the world. Wildlife sightings in urban areas were a delight with people claiming ‘nature just hit the reset button’, sadly some of that was fake news.
With the rapid decline in travel and economic activity, greenhouse gas emissions have plunged. At the same time, there is a huge surge in solid medical waste as well as packaging from online shopping. The lesson to be learnt is to seek solutions that ensure well-being of the economy and ecology. We have to find out the new normal where we stop living beyond natural boundaries so that nature too will get a chance to rejuvenate herself. If we continue to practice reduced use of fossil fuels that will definitely keep the atmosphere healthy and as is evident, it does not take many days for the effects to be felt. It is very likely that post Covid-19, a percentage of people will work from home and thereby reduce commuting.
With the global supply chains collapsing, we have realized what environmentalists have been saying all along. Sustainable development is the only way. The Brundtland Report defines Sustainable Development as that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs. Self-sufficiency for lot of our needs can be easily done. In India, skill mapping of migrant labor has begun, so that their skills can be used in their own home states.
Earth needs to rest
The lockdowns served the need of taking a big pause for humankind. Our greed and wants constantly motivated and manipulated by the capitalistic world has exploited our planet. That also meant that there was a pause in our destructive ways of dealing with the earth. All production units came to a halt, all travel ceased, and large part of human activities stopped. A pause has helped nature to clean herself.
Iman Amrani invited responses from her Guardian readers on a new normal and what they wanted the future shaped by Covid-19 to look like. The words that kept repeating were humaneness, empathy, compassion, transparency, interconnectedness and so on. In another survey, not many reassuring and comforting voices were heard from public figures, but it was the common people, nurses, teachers, key workers – the common folk who had got it right.
Epidemics and other natural calamities are part of cycle of life on earth. It is how we respond that matters. Do we respond with greed, hatred or fear, or do we respond with humaneness?
Dalai Lama says that this crisis shows us that we are not separate from one another – even when we are living apart. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to exercise compassion and help. Compassion is a constructive act. The crisis demands that we develop tools of love such as respect and acceptance, tolerance and patience, appreciation and gratitude.
From: Corona PANDEMIC, the Challenge and Lessons, compiled and edited by Deepa Padhi