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Rethinking vulnerabilities, priorities

The confinement has given us a chance to rediscover our world with new eyes

For millennia, humans have survived the worst imaginable. Did our evolution bring us thus far to be wiped out by viruses? Our kind has lingered on earth like a virus which clings to the host till it kills. Prevail we shall over this pandemic which has withheld the pulse of our daily lives but not stopped it. The solitude during the lockdown has brought some reflections on what it has taught us.

Our predispositions prevent us to live a life of contentment. One such tendency is to believe that we are going to live forever. Where are the civilisations which built the Egyptian pyramids, Mayan temples, Indian Stupas or the Great Wall now? Long are they gone and so have their way of life. Change is inevitable. The present is a mere relic of the future.

The belief in permanence creates an insatiable urge to hoard things. This fascination for material possessions is driven by a desire to derive or to bequeath immense riches to our heirs. But where are the heirs to the world’s famous dynasties? All hostilities, family feuds, wars have been over property. Seldom do we realise that our tendency to bestow wealth on our children is actually robbing them of opportunities to find their place under the sun. It all emanates from our inflated ego and misplaced social ethos. What we actually are leaving behind for our future generation is an immense pile of concrete and codswallop.

Societies flourish on compassion and civilised conduct of its members, and wither away by their hypocrisy. On the one hand, social norms profoundly influence our personal decisions while on the other, we don’t think twice before satisfying our personal greed at the cost of public interest. For instance, arranged marriages, caste-based affinities and even career choices of middle class Indians are all guided by societal pressures; and yet society’s interests are nonchalantly sacrificed when we indulge in corruption, crimes and contaminating the environment.

Are we to fail due to the fact that our intelligence, despite being on a higher psychological order, still tilts towards personal preservation than towards greater good? Has our progress alienated us from the interdependence of life? We have already caused irreparable damage to our planet. But the planet is not doomed, we are. The realisation that we share this planet for a short span of time should make us weigh the consequences of our actions. It does not mean that we shun all that we aspire for. But life is too short and precious to compete with one another. The pandemic and its impact has made us realise that we have to change our attitudes and actions equally.

At the individual level, acknowledging that our notions need to be remedied would be the beginning of humble living. Socrates said that the highest good in life is the improvement or ‘tendance’ of the soul — the care for wisdom and truth. Being good is its own reward. Living in moderation would be the first step in the journey toward this ideal. The Buddha’s teachings of balanced living could help us in living a contented life. Our ambitions beyond a modest life should be intended to lessen the miseries of others and to protect the environment.

Our environment is at the brink of collapse. Apropos of the ecological disaster which is wholly man made, living in moderation is not going to be a choice anymore. Our policies and practices should be modified to protect and preserve the resources for sustainable existence. All should have rational and equitable access to the resources. In recent times, communication technology has been a great leveller. Every year more people are using smartphones and Internet data. In fact, it has proved to be a great service during the lockdown period. Work from home, online education, online purchases, video conferencing and calls have made travel redundant and made meaningful interactions possible. We need to use this opportunity to make such technologies popular and cut down on carbon emissions.

This pandemic has made us rethink our vulnerabilities and priorities alike. The quietness during the lockdown revealed the sounds of nature. The confinement has given us a chance to rediscover our world with new eyes. The spotting of wild animals in cities during this hiatus is an indication that not all is lost and given a chance, nature will restore the balance. We have the gift of consciousness to appreciate its beauty. What matters is, the wisdom not to squander it.

amitpjavalgi@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 12:31:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/rethinking-vulnerabilities-priorities/article31819536.ece

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