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COVID19 Teachable Moments

Every crisis brings out the best or worst in us? Which one will it be for us?

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Nothing teaches better than life (and life in existential threat) itself! So goes the adage, and rightly so. The current COVID19 pandemic situation is difficult, dire, and drastic, and therefore so full of teachable moments for the young and adults alike, that to let them pass would be losing the lemonade for the lemons!

COVID19, is a pandemic, defined as a disease prevalent in the whole world. So, to start with, it is a good time to engage all school going children in the math and science of diseases. In particular, the concept of exponential growth, difference between virus and bacteria and the basics of epidemiology can be explored in ways that make immediate sense to the children.

If the growth pattern of virus can be understood, then the need for social distancing can be explained better too. Otherwise, it is understandably difficult for someone sitting in a suburb of U.S. who seemingly never directly interacts with anyone traveling to or from China and Italy (the first biggest hotspots of this disease) to grasp why s/he needs to be scared of ‘catching’ the virus. The various transmission channels from work, schools, public spaces, travels etc are a tangled web, and each of us is touched by these webs in more ways than we understand. Knowing that the virus can be carried through innumerable unsuspecting vectors, is the key.

The Process of Social Distancing (SD) in itself has so much to learn from. First, by voluntarily isolating, healthy individuals are contributing directly to the common good. And that is a big lesson. How many times do we get to demonstrate to our children, to our community and to our own selves, that we can accept so much inconvenience for others, and act in an unselfish way? To children and adults who ridicule SD as paranoia, it can even be stated that SD is patriotic. Second, volunteering to do social distancing when it is just a suggestion, represents a great level of self-discipline. For most of us, firing up the car to drive to a café, a mall, a friend’s place or library, or inviting friends over weekends, is not just a casual incidence, but almost a habit, and a necessity. Or so we thought! By submitting to social-distancing, we exercise the principles of classic ‘meditation retreats’ starting with controlling the urge to do that which is obvious and convenient, for that which is less exhilarating and inconvenient also.

By limiting our connections with the external world, no classes to ferry kids to, nor any social events to attend, we are forced with time that is left with us, and now for ourselves. We are forced to reflect, and reconnect with that which is within us, reachable but seldom visited otherwise. Likewise, we are forced to engage with our immediate families in a way that is not possible in the rush of everyday ordinary lives. Cousins can rediscover each other, as they exchange timeless conversations on facetime and similar connectors. Plus, as they say distance makes the heart grow fonder, so hopefully we will all appreciate the friends we have a driving/walking distance away.

With the restricted access to goods due to SD, plus the sheer shortage of many goods due to supply side disruptions, rationing needs to start from home! Let us not attempt to sweeten the blow for anyone-not for the adults, nor for the kids! We do not have to continue to consume at the same levels, and the same variety, as pre-CORONA19. Remember Depression Era parents? Their frugality was legendary, but not genetic! Thus their children, the Boomers, and generations after that, including ours, shunned thrift as soon as it was not necessary to do so. And look where that got us all!

We super-sized everything, and in the process rotted our food chains, our climate, and our essential sense of humanity. Ever-increasing greed that fuels inequality and constant decline in empathy have been the hallmarks of our post-war existence. Needless to say, we waste a lot of resources, including food. 40% of food waste in the U.S. is generated by households. In the COVID19 induced shortage days, stretching the grocery to its fullest use may not be an economic necessity, but it is certainly a logistic one, for making frequent trips to the stores is undesirable. This is the perfect time to appreciate the hard work that farmers and cooks all over the world put into creating nutrition, something we take so often for granted. We, especially in the Western world, flatter our egos with the idea of cornucopia, and completely forget that while we—and our children pick, choose, and throw so much food everyday, so many people go to bed hungry every night, the world over. In the COVID19 days as we ‘invent’ dishes with whatever is in the fridge and pantry, we reinforce the moral sense of frugality and humility.

As most of us hole up for social distancing we also take a moment to be thankful for those employed in various visible and invisible occupations, who keep our world running. Topping the list are of course all the healthcare professionals, but the grocery store workers, to trash collectors, and newspaper vendors, and the mail(wo)man, they all count. Their physical presence in times of isolation is reassuring of the fact that apocalypse is still far away.

Last, but not the least, in the sudden appearance of this disease, and in its spread in places as far removed as Wuhan, China to Seattle, USA, we see the interconnectedness of the entire humanity. We called ourselves global citizens and networked people, but never realised that we are so strongly connected in the ways that we can be similarly humbled by Nature. We see through the eyes of COVID19 crisis, the fact that sustainable development requires relative equality of access to health and education. Since pathogens know no boundaries of maps nor of wealth, the only way to keep such pathogens in check is to practice the right hygiene. However, this is only possible if there is access to sufficient information, and to decent living conditions.

Thus, the shock called COVID19 is like a call to reboot all energy systems. It is a time to slow down to the pace that was meant to be. It is a call to snap all over-scheduling and to watch time unfold. It is a call to comprehend the smallness of our stature in the large scheme of things. It is a time to make notes on all the unlearning we can do!  

Inset: (Left) Author holding onto the last pieces of cheese in her fridge, as grocery store trips become rare due to Social Distancing. (Right): The author’s ‘bored’ stay at home child, adds variety to life by creating a reading nook in the kitchen window!
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