5 Lessons From The Lockdown. – Guest Column by Ferose V R
Our guest columnist this week is Ferose V R, Senior Vice President and Head of SAP Academy for Engineering. An inclusion evangelist, Ferose is passionate about making a difference in the world in a meaningful way. As founder of the India Inclusion Summit (IIS), he has helped build a platform for the disabled community in the country.
What did a month of lockdown teach us?
First, the term social distancing is a misnomer. It should be renamed physical distancing. In fact, we probably became closer socially as everyone started calling their friends and family more often. Also, most people live in circumstances that prevent any kind of distancing. How do you expect one million people in Dharavi (one of the most densely populated areas in the world) or 2.5 million people in US prisons or migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres on foot to follow the rules of social distancing?
- Going through the stages of grief: Even the more fortunate among us went through at least some of the Five Stages of Grief that psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (After introducing the Five Stages theory in her 1969 book On Death And Dying, she later refined it with her co-author David Kessler).
- Following the 4 M’s: Those who were able to successfully endure the lockdown followed the 4M’s — Mindfulness, Movement, Meaning, Mastery. When you are locked in with your family, being mindful and respectful of one another will get you through. We are either going to see a lot of December babies or a lot of divorces! Practicing mindfulness is the key to our survival. Movement is an integral part of a healthy life. Even if you’re not allowed to go for walks, doing household chores can give the body adequate exercise. People have found meaning by converting their energies into serving others. Practice helps one master one’s skills, and thanks to the lockdown, some people found plenty of time to practice. COVID19 suddenly made it possible for us to go back to our hobbies, for which we had never found the time before.
- Leadership mattered: The response to COVID19 has seen the best and the worst of leadership. The USA, the most advanced and prepared nation, had one of the worst responses. The number of deaths and uncoordinated efforts indicates poor leadership. On the other hand, India dealt with its population of 1.3 billion with an iron hand. Interestingly, countries led by women leaders (Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Denmark) have responded best. As John M Barry mentions in his book The Great Influenza, “The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that… those in authority must retain the public’s trust…. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”.
- Realising our true heroes: We came to realise that our true heroes were not our sports and movie stars but our healthcare workers and teachers. We live in a world where the annual salary of a university football coach in the US is USD 2 million, whereas the Nobel Prize winner teaching in the same campus earns below USD 200,000. Economist Raj Chetty has shown that school teachers, who can have a great impact on kids’ futures, often earn only about USD 50,000 annually, whereas corporate executives generally earn USD 5 million for doing a bad job! I am not a socialist, but capitalism has run amok, and it must change.
- Bringing us closer to the truth: But there is something else happening on its own without anyone’s doing, something more hopeful. Just a few weeks of isolation have fundamentally altered our lives. Pawan Gupta, Founder of Society for Integrated Development of Himalayas (SIDH), says, “People’s mindsets and perceptions are undergoing a transformation for the first time in modern history. This may bring people closer to truth and reality, closer to their roots and traditions”.
Where do we go from here? One can’t avoid grim predictions. The industry and service sectors, poised to take the biggest hit, will recover very slowly, and even when they do, it will be in a different avatar. As a technologist, I feel it is highly likely that the real powers — the big corporate companies who, while remaining invisible, will act through the instruments of different governments — will try to deploy massive surveillance systems to track each and every individual and use sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence to manipulate and control people.
The 20th century was about blurring the distinction between Needs and Wants. Through education, the media, the advertising industry, etc. people were manipulated into needing things that they actually did not. But it suited the market. A good example of mind manipulation is the fashion of ripped jeans. In many countries wearing torn clothes was considered inauspicious, besides signifying that the wearer was poor. But rich kids are buying torn jeans at exorbitant prices. Their perception has been manipulated.
The lockdown may show us that to live well, you really do not need much. It may help us realise that we have been indulging in a lot of unnecessary activity on the pretext of being busy. By showing up our pretences and revealing our false needs, the lockdown might just help us go back to the basics. It might help us become more real.
- “Disability sector has a scarcity mindset, no one community is more important than the other” – V R Ferose, Founder, India Inclusion Summit
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