It is really amusing, if not painful, to think that we had the hubris to believe that with all our advanced technology and scientific breakthroughs, we were somehow invincible.
The last couple of weeks have made many of us reflect on life and death in a way that we might not have done so far. The thought of our mortality has an uncanny knack of shaking down all the inessential, the faff and making us realise what truly matters at the end of it all. After meeting and speaking with many families and listening to their fascinating stories from across the world, I winnowed down to what keeps people going against all odds.
Joy: It seems a little odd to talk about joy when we are surrounded by so much fear and dread. Fear will convince us that something vile is around the corner, where we have to keep an eye 24x7 on the latest updates and scan every scary WhatsApp that is forwarded to us. It tells us stories of doomsday as we chase down stories of obsessive paranoia on social media through theThe question to ask is not “what if” the virus strikes, but “so what”? The damage will be irretrievable but maybe it will leave us stronger, wiser and more grateful for what we have day and have troubled nightmares of the world coming to an end at night. This dread has a knack of spreading its toxic fingers into all things that mean so much to us — our relationships, our work, our health. And yes, I am talking about the fear doing this to you, not the coronavirus.
Through my co-research with children, we have developed a handy vaccine for this fear that works well for all ages – and it’s as simple as ABC. ‘A’lert to the gremlins of worry that start churning away, ‘b’reathe out (imagine you are a dragon blowing a feather on your hand) and ‘c’hange the channel (from worry to joy channel). Tune into moments of humour and playfulness — laugh, sing, be silly.
As jazz singer Nat King Cole put it, “There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance, let's face the music and dance.”
Simplicity: “Earn more, want more and spend more” is slowly becoming the mantra of our urban society, riding high on the wave of easy affluence. Mall culture and credit card companies have convinced us that happiness is there at the click of our finger, and we have let ourselves be lulled by this fake propaganda.
Maybe the inevitable exponential rise of coronavirus cases, with social distancing and stay-at-home approach, is a timely reminder for us to re-prioritise our life where a counter-culture of stoicism and “less is more” could help us reconnect with what truly matters to us.
The families that I have met in the past have talked about how they are doing things they had forgotten brought them so much joy — goofing around with their children without any agenda, spending time in nature, staying away from gadgets and social media, writing, gardening, cooking, just sitting and doing nothing. And remember, it’s also okay for children to be bored. Stillness and solitude are essential to their growth and it is a milestone they have to cross to reach a rich inner life of contemplation and creativity. Maybe this is the unseen benefit of a global disaster.
Courage: The question right now is not “what if” but “so what”? “What if” leads us down the road of fear, dread, paranoia and disconnect from all the things that bring meaning to our life. The question of “so what” makes us stand tall and take a very different vantage point towards life. So what if somebody we love gets the virus, so what if we have to be quarantined, so what if this virus brings the economy of our country to its knees? The damage will be irretrievable but maybe it will leave us feeling stronger, wiser and more grateful for what we have rather than what we do not. Maybe we will be able to stand up to the normative judgments of society and align our lives to what we truly value.
We have had our share of natural and unnatural calamities but our generation till now has not faced crushing wars, devastating famines or pandemics that have scarred our ancestors. It is really amusing, if not painful, to think that we had the hubris to believe that with all our advanced technology and scientific breakthroughs, we were somehow invincible.
Appreciation: In the past few weeks has it struck you how privileged we are and how much we take for granted? The disposable incomes, getting our kids the best education, access to quality healthcare, eating out, planning interesting holidays. Now that it is being taken away from us (even though temporarily), it makes us realise how much easier our lives have become and, even then, we have complained about things not being good enough, as somebody always has it better.
So let’s pause and appreciate tiny things that we can be grateful for — the glorious weather or just the fact that we still have people we love alive and close to us. As a wise father commented, “It’s a nudge at a crucial juncture in our lives. It’s a reminder of our True North.”
Love: ‘All you need is love’ is an anthem that the Beatles gave to our generation and the ones to follow. We need love, spades of it, in the weeks and months to follow as we struggle and rebuild our lives in the face of “The Full Catastrophe (Zorba The Greek)”.
In many ways, in our country, coronavirus is striking the more privileged sections — the ones who have travelled and brought it back home. But at times like this, our privilege and prejudice do start showing while talking about marginalised people, “I do not let my kids go close to them.” Social distancing cannot become about stigmatising and humiliating people who are the most vulnerable. It is at times like this that we can turn against each other as stress levels rise. As the saying goes, be kind as each person is fighting a battle that we know nothing about. We do not know how we would act if we were in their shoes. What we need is a sense of solidarity as we are all in this together. So, every morning, before starting our day, let’s be mindful of our True North and commit to bringing the best of ourselves to the world. Maybe that will be the most effective and powerful inoculation against the rising “us against them” hatred. We might not have the vaccine, but we definitely can build our village to save ourselves.
Dr Shelja Sen is therapist, writer and co-founder of Children First, a child & adolescent mental health institute write to firstname.lastname@example.org