The last three months have cast a dark shadow across the world. With each passing day, the impact of COVID-19 has only grown, pervading the lives of billions of people. Despite the severe humanitarian and social costs, humanity continues to persevere. A key reason for our resilience has been our immense capacity for evolution in the face of overwhelming challenges, we are not only seeing that in our personal lives but across industries especially in life sciences & healthcare, retail & logistics, manufacturing and more. However, this change is not easy.
Driving Self-Growth and Transformation
I’ve had the opportunity to observe and study the many changes people are making day-in and day-out as a means to survive, and even thrive. We can see that there has been a sudden shift in our day-to-day existence. In my view, this crisis has given people an opportunity to reflect, to learn and unlearn, which can help them make critical decisions to improve their lives. This journey of self-improvement is a difficult one, but I truly believe that it can lead us to a better society in an even better future in the post-COVID-19 world.
Coping with fear and uncertainty
Our journey began soon after the direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became visible. News of deaths, national lockdowns, and economic slowdowns gripped the world instantly. At first, people truly didn’t comprehend what was going on or realized the extent to which the crisis had spread. The vast amounts of contradictory information in the media created uncertainty, which naturally led to fear. Without a unified plan or preparation for what lay ahead, panic became the inevitable outcome.
We all witnessed reports of mass hoarding as people began preparing for the worst. And while this wasn’t true everywhere, a different kind of fear invaded the minds of even the rational and pragmatic—a deep-rooted disappointment for everything that the pandemic was taking away from them—from their livelihood to their social freedoms. But the greatest lesson perhaps on this difficult journey has been about picking the right things to consider important, such as health, happiness, family, and personal wellbeing.
The initial exposure to fear resonated with me deeply, but I was fortunate enough to be amply prepared. As a child of a military family, fear and uncertainty was always an invisible presence. Growing up, we would live in all sorts of isolated and remote places. And while most of them were fairly humble and insular, they were built around communities. The natural course of life in these cantonments and bases was built on maintaining order and discipline, even during times of war. It wasn’t unusual for families to worry constantly and put on a brave front to ease the lives of their children and each other. After all, in the face of the unknown, we only had one another.
And yet, we would strive to retain a sense of the normal. The families would gather as a means of solidarity and conduct activities that would seem strange given the circumstances. There would be outings and picnics, children would play, and for a while at least, the fear would be replaced by hope. As the current crisis continues, the most resilient among us have been the ones who have taken the same course. They have illuminated the darkness of fear with hope, dissipated disappointment with proactive engagement, and vanquished ignorance with knowledge. It’s only when hope takes root that we can settle ourselves to move onto enriching our awareness.
Coping by learning
It is only by embracing the fact that life after COVID-19 can still go on. This is not simply a matter of feelings but of actions as well. Times of austerity drive us to make tough choices. We learn to question our habits, to recognize all that we’ve taken for granted, and to be more thoughtful with our consumption. This stage of coping is one where self-actualization is possible. Moreover, if handled well, it offers the fortunate among us a chance to gain the most valuable resource possible—time.
For example, we are no longer spending hours in daily commutes. In fact, the necessity to travel for work in big cities like Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago has always been a leading cause of stress, which has been drastically reduced. The ad hoc remote work model has given us dozens of hours every week as a gift. We need to use this time in productive ways—whether it’s spending more time with our family, developing a long pending hobby, or upgrading our professional skill sets. We should also try to learn basic DIY first aid, CPR or healthcare lessons which could be lifesaving during the times of need.
New Perspectives for a New Age
As I think back to all the lessons from my life, the hardest thing is accepting a need for change, to acknowledge that we can work harder to do better. Much like America, we too are on a journey of creating a more perfect union, an endeavor that is never ending. But all too often we get complacent, too comfortable, and too habituated to the way things are and stop making the necessary effort. In some ways, this crisis serves as a pause that can help us take an honest account of the society that we live in.
My experience tells me that we’ve lost far too much to the frantic pace of modern lives. But ironically, it is this time of crisis that can help us relearn and to take things further with a new perspective. The most important of which has been quite possibly the simplest—taking joy in the simple pleasures of life. When was the last time we had a quiet meal with the family? When was the last time the family prepared a meal together? When was the last time we stepped out of our own individual lives to give back to the community? The way toward this goal isn’t easy, but it is possible.
Reassessing what is truly important
I remember, not too long ago, just sitting at home was intolerable. The children always wanted to go somewhere, a movie, the park, a playdate—anything but just sitting around at home. But now, weeks into this new reality, we have actually discovered the simple pleasure of being at home. During this time of self-isolation and quarantine, I’ve witnessed so many instances when both young and old in a family have had a chance to bridge the chasm between them and work together—even if it involves preparing a simple meal over a video conference. This is an essential part of how we as a community can bond and become stronger.
This unity also puts us in a better position to embrace the unknown, to rest our anxieties, and to draw strength from the experiences of young and old alike. It can be rather unnerving and triggering for many people to be alone during this crisis. But this isn’t true just during a crisis. I believe that together, we can not only serve as a comfort to our friends and family but also be the engines of creativity and thought that can help us exercise new ways of thinking about the world. But it is only possible once we begin to reassess what’s truly important.
For far too long we’ve gone on an accelerated track, burning through the decades in an ever-increasing ambition for growth. This has come at a cost that we’re all too aware of—in terms of environment, social structures, and most important, our health. The time we’ve gained under this dark cloud offers us a silver lining. We can use this time to experiment with a new way of living. Whether it’s eating healthy, meditating, or exercising—there is a lot more we must try to do before we start believing that we’ve done everything we can.
Developing patience and character
Far too easily, the best parts of modernity—technology and conveniences—give us more opportunities to indulge our greatest weakness. Self-obsession, narcissism, vanity, and a compulsion to always “be on” is the side-effect of social media. For many people, especially the young, this is where living happens. But it comes at the cost of real-world experiences, without which developing a strong character is much harder, if not difficult.
The need for instant gratification that today’s services inculcate have a large role to play in our mental health. Reliance on instant services and always-on commerce has eroded our patience. And as I’ve learnt over these weeks, maintaining the discipline of even a simple routine requires a great capacity for patience and the ability to self-motivate. But mastering the art of patience is a gift in and of itself. With a resolute mind and still self, we can greatly improve not only our core character but also our ability to deal with disruptions and crisis.
Recognizing our privilege
A key part of developing our character is being willing to recognize the many advantages we enjoy. Truly, we are blessed and privileged to have the facilities,infrastructure, and opportunities that enable our daily aspirations. For many of us, these privileges are an invisible lattice that holds up the world as we know it. But it’s something that we take for granted and only when it’s weakened or altered, do we sense its importance.
If nothing else, the COVID-19 experience needs to be a wakeup call that helps us acknowledge our privilege. As we move forward, we must recognize the benefits that we enjoy. There is no doubt, once this pandemic is over, we will surely return to the things that we miss and cherish them more dearly, but we should also cherish and appreciate those who make it possible. We should express our gratitude to the teachers in our community, the healthcare professionals, and essential workers who help us endure this chaos by dealing with it on our behalf. Their efforts serve as an inspiration for us to also give back to the community by sharing whatever we can—from our time and skills to our donations and support.
Reconnecting with nature and ourselves
Finally, the last major realization has been a humbling one. After decades, we’re catching a glimpse of the environment with reduced pollution. Owing to reduced human intervention, there is a significant decline in global carbon emissions, with natural water bodies clearing up. Over the weeks, I’ve witnessed clearer skies, fresher air, and more bird songs in my neighborhood than ever before. While this is a byproduct of COVID-19, it gives us hope for what we could achieve if we strive for an environment with lower pollution levels, even after the pandemic is over.
To progress on this path, we must ask some fundamental questions: Do we always need to drive everywhere? Should we strive further for renewable energy? Is green public transport a national priority? These are questions that we need to answer as a community. After all, humans are an essential part of the global ecology, we can’t sever ourselves from it. But if there is a mutually beneficial solution possible, and I believe there is, then now is the time we start working toward it.
Building a Better Future
It is in human nature to be imperfect. It is this very imperfection that gives us our humanity, makes us more understanding of the flaws of others, to have empathy, be accepting of failure, and to strive ever higher. But finally, we’re at a crossroad where our achievements in technology finally match up to our current needs as a society. It’s only a matter of whether we have the will to change that can take us to a greater future after COVID-19. Humanity, despite all its flaws, is most adept at changing.
This crisis will shape the minds of our children and the next generation, leaving a lasting impact on their minds for decades to come. We can’t just hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We need to dance in the rain. We need to focus our talents and resources to shape happiness as a global community. All of us are in a crucible, being tested, and with the rare opportunity to reimagine the world and build it from our dreams. It is our time at the precipice of change, and where we go from here will define not only us but the generations ahead.
Let’s strive to make it a good one.