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Insights from the Ongoing Viral Pandemic

April 2020
Insights from the Ongoing Viral Pandemic

Periodically, throughout the week, my calendar reminders kept popping up on my phone. These were for events, meetings, and other commitments added into my calendar much before the coronavirus epidemic turned into an unprecedented global pandemic—one that has rendered the personal calendar pretty much a useless tool, for now.

Interestingly, each time a reminder popped, I experienced an exhilarating feeling of relief, peace, and even joy—on knowing I no longer had to attend the event because, well, there was not going to be an event to attend.

Mind you, I am not antisocial. I love good events and good company. Why then that welcome sense of relief, peace, and joy on hearing those calendar reminders which I was no longer obliged to abide by?

It was a clear signal: we are all hopelessly overscheduled!

“Tell me something I don’t know,” you may retort. But not so fast! We all know that, but I suspect, only superficially. Even as we go around joking about how busy our lives are, I don’t think many of us ever slow down to appreciate the true impact (and harm) of our relentless calendars. The current crisis has given us a taste—unlike ever before—of how the opposite of overscheduled actually feels like. And it feels great!

There are two distinct reasons why the shutdown of our personal calendars, thrust upon us by the virus, feels so good: no “Fear of missing out” (FOMO) factor, and no guilt on account of saying no to invitations. Under normal circumstances, even our best attempts to cut back on our nonstop social, professional, and other commitments run into these two formidable foes.

Currently, thanks to the social isolation that has become our collective creed for the time being, out-the-window goes the FOMO factor: we can rest comfortably in the knowledge that while staying home and enjoying our unshackling from our calendars, we are not missing out on anything—as there are no events for anyone to go to.

Same goes with the guilt that ordinarily comes from RSVP’ing a “No” to an invitation. In many, if not most cases, we feel, perhaps only subconsciously, that saying no may be seen as giving a cold shoulder to the host. And so, our best attempts to cut back often fail in the face of a dysfunctional dynamic of social obligation. So, imagine the relief of avoiding so many events without having to say no!

I intend to keep this feeling of liberation intact when things get back to normal, and let it guide me when we all start filling up our calendars again. Such resolve for cutting back would never have happened if not for what we are going through presently. Downsizing our engagements—social, communal, professional, or entertainment events—may seem like shortchanging ourselves; but if the current social isolation experiment has taught us anything, it is that cutting back is not only good for our personal and collective mental health, but also for the environment.

Speaking of which, the global pandemic has done wonders for the environment—the kind that seemed impossible before this ugly episode started in December in China. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, residents are reporting clear skies and chirping birds like they have never seen before. From crystal clear waters in the canals of Venice to a record drop in greenhouse emissions throughout the world, the pandemic, it seems, is turning out to be a much needed catharsis for Mother Earth.

By highlighting these positive side effects of the pandemic, I don’t mean to be unmindful of, or undermine, the havoc this crisis has already caused, and will end up causing by the time it is done. The horror is still pretty much upon us, and the need for vigilance cannot be overstated.

According to the World Health Organization, it took more than three months to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases worldwide—but only 12 days for the next 100,000. In the U.S., as of March 19, the number of cases doubled in just two days! In the face of this exponential power of the virus, governments and authorities may do all they can, but ultimately the virus can be defeated only if each and every one of us is serious about flattening the curve through extreme measures of social isolation.

We Indians love socializing with friends and family. But now is not the time to indulge this lovely quality. A seemingly innocent gathering of a few families may unknowingly end up being one more of those interactions that collectively fuel the exponential growth of this highly contagious virus.

How seriously each of us limit physical human interaction in upcoming weeks will have a direct impact on:

I realize the stakes are high. In the face of lost incomes, disrupted lives, and the almost gravitational pull of the need to be productive, hunkering down in our homes for weeks, if not months, is not going to be easy. But I am reminded of the popular meme that has been doing the rounds on social media: “Your grandparents were called to war. You are asked to sit on a couch. You can do this!”

And meanwhile, I hope you enjoy ignoring your calendar reminders as much as I have!

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