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‘Almost Everything Human(E) : The Price Of This Pandemic’

Not knowing how this pandemic will play out, it continues to hurt us and impairs our economic, physical and mental well-being. It is making many of us increasingly despondent, unhappy and lonely.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has rough-shod its fury on the world, taking a huge toll on human lives, still poses greater risk to humanity and society’s belief in itself. It also has created a new challenge to public health, food systems, and the ‘world of work’. The social disequilibrium it has caused will take a long time to revert back to (new) normal. Economically, this pandemic might have already harmed or will destroy livelihood to more than half of the workforce.

But humans are not mere statistics. There is a huge cost that we have paid so far, from the health impact of this infection to the fear and trauma that all of us continue facing. In an uncertain world we seem to live, it won’t be far from the truth to say that most of us have simply “lost our mojo”. 

Not knowing how this pandemic will play out, it continues to hurt us and impairs our economic, physical and mental well-being. It is making many of us increasingly despondent, unhappy and lonely. If we add to it, our daily dose of “education”  from the forwards from the social-media-universities, it further amplifies our state of emotional wreckage.

Social interactions - the  missing ‘normal’ 
First time voters, first time office goers, first time college students – everyone has been deprived of what they have grown up to know as natural social behaviour – to interact, to make new friends and to hang out with friends, to play, to have birthday parties, to exchange snack boxes at school, late night catch ups, to quarrel, to differ and argue, study groups, bunking classes, exam preps… nothing seems to fall in place !

COVID or not, the lack of having an aunt to tell her about your  first crush (before your mom learns about it), the hush-hush discussions with a classmate who learns she has her first period (menarche), the warmth of having grandparents telling you stories from their era (rather than whatsapping tirelessly or watching television endlessly with the same ‘breaking news’) , the cushion of having a cousin to talk to (when one is going through troubled times), an uncle who catches you smoking outside home, yet guides you gently to your dad so you can admit it --- all these are not just distant memories, but perhaps seen as impractical in Covid-affected-living. This hurt, this feeling of having to cope alone has increased tremendously during these pandemic times.  Have we got so immune to each other’s feelings that COVID only seems like a smokescreen excuse not to empathise, or hug or care ?

But people are trying hard to cope. Therapists are seeing an alarming increase of teens (and sometimes tweens) reaching out for help. And in a somehow reassuringly great way, that is a first step . To reach out for help. School and family counsellors are working overtime to reach out to young, troubled minds who are trying to cope with an unprecedented situation. But these are mostly in metros and megapolises like Mumbai and Delhi.  What about the scores of kids who are from underprivileged societies and for who, these times are harsher – both in terms of physical and mental (lack of) space? With no access to mental health counselling, are we looking at more disruptions in their lives too, disruptions that they can’t vocalise, let alone share. The by-lanes where they once played hopscotch, hide & seek or gully cricket wears a desolate look now. And the tin-roofed houses are claustrophobic and filled with more mouths they can feed. 

Society’s changed-fabric 
Migrant workers & other underprivileged often share dwellings by the hour and don’t have any dwelling to call their own. In a megapolis like Mumbai where real estate is premium, an out-of-work work migrant labourer can afford neither counselling or the shared space. Unwillingly returning to his / her hometown, this is literally a story of “Two States”. 

As much as business are breaking-apart, people are too. Adults are finding it difficult to have a conversation with their own siblings, parents, even friends without wondering if they will see them soon (or again at all). Unexpected morbidity, materialism, lack of basic medicines and oxygen facilities and most importantly, the fear of the unknown has caught us all unawares. In millions of homes, salaries are now an expectation and not a surety, a nest-egg completely bereft of both money and compassion. Or if at all things will ever be normal. 

Job seekers are seeing huge resistance from prospective employers and recruiters alike, a procrastination that adults cannot comprehend easily. But then, it’s a simple matter of supply vs demand, and the same sense of uncertainty that’s hit those businesses, which people look up for hiring.

Senior citizens are unable to mingle, socialise, laugh or be with their peers – for most of them have been relegated indoors with fear or infection or both. A luxury of an evening or  morning walk, interacting with their age group was something they looked forward to. Simple luxuries that money can’t buy.  We have more and more senior citizens wanting to be part of retirement homes (and in a good way – it’s no more a punishment posting) for exactly that reason – peer-networking. Even there, the only space they have is their single / shared room and probably meet up other inmates for a cup of coffee. Many homes have started serving food / beverages in the respective rooms too for fear of infection.

Kids’ ‘coming-of-age’ moment
Generation X, Y and Z (and across various age groups) are reading these signs differently. From being entitled brats, many such kids have finally come around to sharing domestic chores, to be more empathetic to those who are hurting, to be less demanding for stuff, to differentiate between need and want, and more importantly to share. And for those children from the marginalised communities, it’s sadly worse suffering.

So, while we have haughty, entitled kids who are refusing to deal with this reality, we also have young 16-19 year olds & other slightly older ‘young-adults’ who are forming and engaging in active support groups, and volunteer to crowdsource resources, medicines, and in some very cases, even take care of funerals for persons where family / relatives cannot make it to the last journey.

If only as responsible human beings, those adults who are tempted to “socialise” despite all the covid restrictions, just remember that all of us, have lost a year of normal-living. The impact on kids is destroying their emotional state and social behaviour. This is the time to showcase exemplary (adult) behaviour by abiding by all rules and protocols, so that we get over this crisis; and our kids can get back to their schools and regain their social sanity.

(S)heroes at home
Yes, while we have the frontline workers, medical and police fraternity, without whom we couldn’t have even survived so long, there are (s)heroes who help us within our household too. Give a couple of off-days to the domestic help. Pay for the vaccines / medicines / medical help for them & their families. If you can further afford, pay for their kids’ school / college fees. Loan them a computer or even better, lend yours upgraded or a brand new. Online classes are for their kids too !

Hug your children, your family more. Your family is supporting you much more than you think. Be grateful for everything. Like they say, pray together. More conversations at the dinner table, with at least one meal a day together. As much as the child next door is all prepped to write the most-important-board-exam-of-my-life, make an exception by having an off-study day. It is okay to have some Netflix and family movies together. Order in, if you can afford, and often too (don’t forget to tip the person who delivers your food and to order extra food for that security guard who delivers it to you at your door !). The lady of the house (and the cook included) would both bless you for that. 

HR & beyond
Thanks to mandatory WFH and other major changes to how we live and work, we’re getting a much more realistic picture of our colleagues, employees and managers and we’re engaging with them on a deeper, more emotional level. From organisational perspective, accommodations for unexpected life-situations are being encouraged. This could have never happened at this scale by mere company HR interventions. Many professionals have not met their co-workers face-to-face for many months.  Simple social behaviour of shaking hands, patting on the shoulder, going out together for a meal or drinks, driving together for a business meeting, travelling to another city for a work meeting and meeting colleagues in that city - they are all lost. But what’s not lost despite the Covid impacted emotional state is the much stronger human-connection that we seem to be experiencing. This is the time period with which individuals will assess the Values & Culture that their managers & organisations stand for; mere HR branding won’t help.

The road ahead
Covid journey seems to be like driving inside a new tunnel. You are driving for what seems to be hours and yet there is no light at the end of the tunnel ! The past year has left many of us bruised and battered. Some scars will never heal ! Solidarity with communities that are hit hardest can simply start with a word. A word of support, of advice, of solidarity, of hope. Will you give us yours?

COVID-19 is giving us a new sense of gratefulness and sense of appreciation for smaller mercies and physical comforts. It has offered us a new perspective on everything we have taken for granted for so long – our freedoms, leisure, connections, work, family and friends. We have never questioned about life, as we know it could be suddenly taken away from us.

Pick up that phone now, speak to your extended family members, friends, your loved ones, a former colleague, an ex-boss, a partner at home or life. One never knows what the other person is going through.

“Stay safe. Stay healthy” has become the new “take care” phrase ! Hopefully, humanity would learn humility and to remain socially-interconnected & relevant. This pandemic, while has been harsh with taking away loved ones, has reminded us that money and power have no relevance to its menacing grip.

This crisis is far more humanitarian than just a medical ! And hopefully once we have overcome this situation, we will be better humans and stay humane!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
economy work from home COVID-19

Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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Kalyani Srinath

The author is a keen observer of social behaviour, an L&D (Learning and Development) Professional and an avid blogger at www.sizzlingtastebuds.com

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