War movies usually give me goosebumps, when I see the passion, drive and force with which soldiers march towards enemy lines. Their focused eyes, war cries and loud thumping feet that are meant to intimidate the enemy, blare at me through the sound system, my living room vibrating and with it, my heart pounds. I have always wondered what made them walk into the approaching blood bath, what goes on in their minds and what they felt while doing so.
Persistence and courage have always intrigued me. The truth is, though, that these do not occur in isolation. There is a moment of choice, which is a culmination of patience, bravery, trust and hope. What makes people stand their ground, when they know a single mistake can cost them their life, is the acceptance of vulnerability and responsibility. The realisation that they need to look out for themselves, their brothers, their cavalry and their mission. There is a persistence to survive and fight shoulder to shoulder for each other.
The year 2020 will go down in history as one of legendary battle, which we fought with not only a deadly “viral rival” that burgeoned overnight, but also with ourselves. One that put all our learnings through history to test. We have been pushed to breaking point multiple times, but as we struggle to survive the invisible and incessant strikes of the Covid-19 virus, maybe we need to adopt a different war tactic. While the way to victory is the vaccine and medical miracles, we need to get ourselves back on our feet, persist and “hold the line”. It is in this defending with responsibility, patience and courage that we may find respite, solutions and liberation.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “To lose patience is to lose the battle”, and with every passing day we hear of brothers and sisters losing their will to hold on. Patience lies in continuing to face the crisis with resilience, avoiding temptation of risky behaviour. We hear whispers of people socialising, watch friends and strangers throw away masks and face-shields exasperated with discomfort, various businesses compromising on health advisory and many such breached lines of defence.
The operational definition of holding the line is to “not yield to the pressure of a difficult situation” and steadfastly hold on, but I feel the need to add a perspective to it. Not only does hold the line mean “mask up”, “suit up” “stock up” and actively defend yourself, but it also indicates taking responsibility for the ones fighting beside you, looking out for the injured and fight for the ones who can’t protect themselves. This fight won’t be won in isolation.
Truth is that if we do not hold on “together”, look out for each other, sensibly respect precautions and medical advice, stay home, socially distance as hard as it is getting with every passing day, we will see defeat, further delayed recovery and increased loss and destruction. We say we are lonely, when we are actually all united in the fight of our lives; we say are low, when we have so much reason to to be inspired and fight for; we say we can’t take it anymore, when we have an evolutionary history of patience and persistence through the worst plagues and wars.
Today, it is not just about “survival of the fittest”, but the survival of all, as a community and who knows even as a species. Survival of the fittest, is a phrase best understood as survival of the form that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations. Will it be us or the virus, time will tell. Darwin in 1809 said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.” Today I humbly wish, he had added the word “collectively” in the end. We cannot survive alone, act in self-serving or egotistical ways this time and get away with it. There is no getting out of this battle alive, unless we respect and protect each other.
A lot depends upon our choices. The ones we make for ourselves in the safety of our homes, and those we make for others, when we step out. It is now that we can add the final pillar of strength to persist in the line of defence, which is trust. Trust, connect and charity must be held onto sincerely and unwaveringly by us. Brene Brown, a researcher and author, said, “Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.”
This is a tough time. A time we never saw coming. A time we can’t see the end of. But it is a time we need to be earnest and adamant to protect, persist, fight temptation, stay firm, be united and hold the line.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)
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