The Pandemic's Own Chaos Theory
All the world’s a playground, and powerful world leaders merely children. So far, the current pandemic has shown us that with great power comes lesser accountability and a race to pin the tail on the donkey. On this playground, there is the Quiet Little Boy who didn’t cry wolf when he felt its breath against his skin. The others had known of his tendency to stay disconcertingly silent. Had they been warned of the big, bad wolf, they could have run for their lives. Unfortunately, the wolf got to the Quiet Little Boy and everyone else. They now hold on for dear life, hoping to make it out alive. Hang in there, little children.
The playground is also home to the Loud Little Boy - the polar opposite of the Quiet Little Boy. Possessor of most of the toys (some of which he snatched from the rest of his playmates), the Loud Little Boy acts like a big brother to most of his peers. He talks too much but says little of consequence. The Loud Little Boy watched as his other friends fell prey to the big, bad wolf. “It’s not really a wolf,” he laughed. When a few more friends fell prey to the big, bad wolf, he wondered whether the Quiet Little Boy did this on purpose. When denying the presence of the big, bad wolf finally caught up with the Loud Little Boy, he began to worry. He too was severely bitten and is fighting to survive. The Loud Little Boy is hysterical that the Quiet Little Boy has gotten away with this. The wolf still looms at large, waiting to strike again.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc worldwide. Smiting 2 million people, killing 100,000 and counting, and with no vaccine in sight, this global pandemic is the greatest disaster of the 21st century. It has revealed the unpreparedness of countries hailed for their development – especially in the field of public health. The world has taken health and healthcare systems for granted. How funny a story it will be to tell our grandchildren of the Third World War fought against a travelling cough.
Meanwhile, in the exotic land of snake charmers and God Men, the story is rather different. The fight against the pandemic in India, an otherwise chaotic nation has been, on the face of it, resilient. Many people have commended Indian leaders for their courage to make strong decisions. This has influenced other countries to adopt similar measures in their fight against COVID-19. Praise was also mounted on Indian people for withstanding these orders. It is fascinating how a country of 1.3 billion (with a few notable exceptions) has managed to adhere to the words of a man behind a television screen. I guess I have had my Charlie’s Angels moment after all.
While there are plenty of praises to go around, several others from within India and outside question the veracity of the statistics projected to the public. The debates oscillate between “all that can possibly be done being done”, “no tangible benefits and policies carried out - inadequate testing, loss of jobs, and neglecting migrant labourers”, to “no feasibility of tending to everyone given the limited resources”. Amidst all of this, in true Indian fashion, is a cocktail of other problems: a (not-so) fresh squeeze of Islamophobia, a few shots of fake news, and a hint of privacy breach on the rocks. Shaken and stirring up emotions beyond imagination.
While some countries have begun to recover, others see a rise in the number of cases. Lockdowns have helped flatten the curve. Despite the emphasis on social distancing, there have been protests against lockdowns worldwide. Much of the fear comes from a complex mix of daily wage earners and those working in start-ups and others without job security. Of course, there is the bored Gen Y and Z with arms sore from whipping up Dalgona Coffee and baking surplus amounts of bread, but let’s focus on the former. While some reading this will not be able to understand the vehement opposition against these lockdowns, ask yourself if this would be your reaction if you or the breadwinners at home had just entered the job market with no paycheck in sight.
Perhaps the idea of the ripple effects of consequences is more pertinent now than ever before. Our world is small: so much so, that a sniffle and a cough have managed to acquire passports to the rest of the world. As global citizens, it is high time we understood how little actions go a long way. If anything at all, this pandemic has taught us that we are not invincible, that the world changes whether we notice or not (so open your eyes!), and that the onus lies on us not to plan, but to have in place systems to remain efficient. It frightens me to think that either everything or absolutely nothing would change with the world post-COVID-19; I shudder to wonder which is worse.
(Note: “You” hereinafter applies to me as well.)
If you are reading this, congratulations! The stars have been kind, and you have had the good fortune of being born into a family that doesn’t need to worry about next month’s expenses. If you do end up feeling resentful (either towards me or the things you read here) while reading this, ask yourself why. If you don’t feel miserable, question that, too. The first step to overcoming our hypocrisy is to acknowledge it. Little actions, large consequences.
Our decisions will have an impact on our larger ecosystem given how connected we are. Climate change is just one example. Simultaneously, our decisions are impacted by the larger ecosystem we live in. This very moment you’re at is because of your actions as well as a series of coordinated efforts by several others. Little actions, large consequences, and coordinated efforts.
You might have resolved that 2020 would be your year. It is a stupefying assumption that time and efforts are directly proportional in the first place. No, it is not nearly enough; it never is. It is also a large amount of social capital necessary to survive that has gotten you through most of your life, and through this pandemic. While being fully appreciative of this fact, you are duty-bound to put it to good use. This doesn’t mean that you must work on devising a vaccine for the coronavirus. At the risk of repetition, I will say that since your actions necessarily have consequences, be mindful of them. The pandemic is no reason to hoard grotesque amounts of food. An act of kindness will be foregoing that extra loaf of bread at the supermarket. There is no reason to take long showers and practice “self-care” superficially. People are struggling without water, let alone testing, so cautious use of these resources would be vital as we go forward. Finding uses for products that we no longer use, but can use, would be greatly beneficial. Of course, none of this is a part of your plan to be CEO in the next 10 years. My solution to you is: suck it up and embrace uncertainty, for that is the only thing that is certain.
The pandemic has affected us all in an unprecedented manner because of our obsession with predicting the future and wanting to control it. In her book Uncharted, Margaret Heffernan talks about the crucial need to have efficient systems in place and not just flawless plans (because there is no such thing). History does not repeat itself, she says, for the world is not what it was ten years ago. Patterns might recur, but the circumstances vastly differ. The responses will also differ. The tendency to rely on the efficiency and pre-planned, risk-proof systems would make us weaker and not stronger individuals. In the face of adversity, we will crumble if all that we depend on is our unlimited supply of resources. Consider a world with nothing much left; how would you survive a pandemic then? The book beautifully highlights how coordinated efforts with several others will go a long way in making a change. There is no pre-requisite that everyone must be like-minded. With an assortment of different skills, systems will come together. Little actions, large consequences, coordinated efforts, and resilience to change.
You might feel like a hypocrite while taking note of your ability to endure change, while simultaneously highlighting that it is a privilege. Writing about the miseries of those around us while sitting in the comfort of our homes has been hailed as the height of hypocrisy. It has become the starting point to discredit all that one does, solely based on who they are. Perhaps that is our ‘profoundly troubling paradox’, as critical thinkers put it. This boils down to the fact that we have several different identities, and each of these will clash. Finding equilibrium with all of these identities is not something a plan can map out. It takes experimentation, and the willingness to try. Little actions, large consequences, coordinated efforts, and resilience to change will ensure you leave your mark in this world - regardless of how small it might be.
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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