Post-Covid musings: After the deluge
Now that we have stepped into a new year, it may be time to take a brief pause from our hectic schedule. Not to reminisce about the beach vacation in Thailand or the shopping spree in India, but to take a peep into a post-Covid world. Personally, I would like to assess whether or not I have made the life choices that I thought I would once the tsunami subsides. Am I at a place that I visualised I would be in – a less frenzied pace, a sharper awareness of our blessings, and a deeper appreciation of "others" and their needs?
Covid has not just been a deadly virus that spread in our bodies, but much more. It crept into our souls and shook our inner core, giving us a chance to closely examine the technology-driven world we created with the idea that it will make us, humans, invincible. The pandemic extracted a high toll, especially from the underprivileged. Towns and megacities of the world shut businesses and sent working class citizens back to jobless uncertainty. The top few sat in the comfort of their homes, maybe not worrying about the next meal, but counting the minutes and days of unstructured time in the absence of social interactions and family reunions. Barred from hugging an old friend or kissing a grandchild, our material possessions, closeted in lonely houses, became meaningless. And we realised how we are all interconnected and cannot live our dreams in a bubble. Many thus reflected on the value of compassion and sharing, with the resolute intention of severing their ties with the past and creating a more inclusive and equitable world.
But once Covid somewhat abated, did we succeed in crossing the mental Rubicon? If anything, 2022 indicated that the spiritual lessons learnt lost out to the allure and the glitter of a hardcore material world. We are witnessing the revival of heartless capitalism and conspicuous consumption: opulent wedding celebrations and dinner parties have rebounded, there is a crazy demand for consumer goods, the influx of vacationers in flights and hotels is unrelenting. The extravaganza does not give us much hope that we are ready for a reset in our priorities and lifestyles to create a more humane society. On the contrary, it appears that people have gone back to their pre-Covid lifestyles with renewed frenzy, as if they are making up for the two years lost in forced isolation.
A recent photograph on the front page of The Daily Star caught my attention and rekindled my thoughts on how little difference the Covid experience has made to our psyche. The evocative picture was captioned: "A woman living on a footpath in the capital…shares her blanket with a street dog she takes care of…" The description may be self-explanatory, but the photo conveyed so much more – the homeless woman was half asleep, there was neither anger, nor sorrow, but a hollowness in her expression that spoke volumes.
The poignant photo triggered a thought: can empathy, sharing, and selflessness be acquired – and learnt through life's experiences – or are these innate qualities dictated by an inner calling? And is compassion dependent on wealth and resources, or can it flow spontaneously in the way the homeless woman shared her blanket with the dog?
I, for one, believe that kindness and empathy have no race, frontiers, and borders, and can surmount most obstacles. It's an inner choice we make: a moral choice, because there are no sanitisers or tests that can cleanse our minds or measure our moral compass. We and we alone are responsible for the path we choose. However, at some critical junctures, life does offer us a rare opportunity to choose the "road less travelled" that leads us to a shared humanity.
Alternatively, we can choose the trodden course and become a part of the prejudice, hate, greed, and injustice that prevails! I sincerely believe the pandemic was one such fork in our lives, where each individual could have opted to act on one's best instincts.
Unfortunately, people find it hard to change mental attitudes and their deeply entrenched lifestyles. But it's not impossible. According to "Sapiens" author Yuval Noah Harari, Homo sapiens began to dominate the earth not because of their scientific and technological advancements, but because of their ability to imagine things that didn't exist (religions, nations) and build communities based on shared beliefs. Actually, Harari goes a bit further in arguing convincingly that if we, human beings, collectively decide to alter the myths that dictate our thinking today, we can relatively quickly and dramatically alter human behaviour and change the pattern of history. The question is: shall we?
My head says that men and women are creatures of habit and resistant to change, especially if it means stepping out of their comfort zones and making sacrifices. But my heart says there may be hope, because the human race has the resilience to recreate itself with the very force that breaks it into pieces.
Milia Ali is a Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.