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Thursday, June 04, 2020

Corona panic: Courage is not a trait or a quality; it is a practice 

Imagine: It reminded me of A Letter to the UK from Italy by the writer Francesca Melnadri, “Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: ‘How are you doing?’"

Written by Shelja Sen | Updated: April 4, 2020 10:02:00 am
parenting, coronavirus Corona panic is making us feel helpless and hopeless. (Source: Getty Images)

Corona has made us aware of the fragility of our human life. We are learning that despite the dead-ends and detours, we need to move forward. As we navigate the unchartered territory, one thing that can guide us through the worst storms, roughest terrains and darkest times is our ‘Courage’. Courage is an acronym I use to highlight seven core practices we will need in this unprecedented journey. Because as Anais Nin put it, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” 

Change the channel

One of the biggest challenges that corona panic is posing is that it is making us feel helpless and hopeless. It is shrieking and crowding our minds with the worst-case scenarios. No wonder we are feeling frazzled, exhausted and on edge. Corona’s voice of doom is tough to tune out. It has already terrorised our economy, taken thousands of lives, and now it is ready to tyrannise our minds. Not much of a surprise keeping in mind all the horror stories we are feeding it all the time. It is becoming a fertile ground for fear to breed. Imagine if we stood up to its fear-mongering propaganda and took active steps to do all things that give us peace and joy. Through my co-research with children, we have developed a simple trick to stop Corona panic in its tracks: Alert to the voice of Corona panic churning away its stories of doom and gloom, Breathe out (imagine you are a dragon blowing a feather on your hand) and get up and Change the channel (from Corona worry to joy channel — dancing, art, music, gardening, knitting, cooking, yoga, etc).

Owning our light

JK Rowling’s described dementors as – ‘get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.’ Corona panic is doing precisely that to all of us. As our jobs become uncertain, our future bleak, we grapple with insecurities, self-doubts and inadequacies, “Will I be able to go to college?” “Will I lose my job?” All the dreams and aspirations for the future might seem meaningless. A 23-year-old young man who had invested a lot of time and effort in making films told me despondently, “I used to be passionate about working with children with disability, but it seems so futile now.” That is what Corona panic does, it distracts us from what truly matters to us by pumping in a lot of obsessive paranoia. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to hold on to what you value the most no matter that the Corona panic tries to convince you of. 

Us against Corona 

Corona panic has a devious knack of splitting people up through “othering”. The recent spate of vicious racism directed at people from the north-east is a typical example of this. There is no ‘us and them’ here, we are all in this together. “Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future.” These words by the historian, Yuval Noah Harari, really resonate with a lot of us as we grapple with the intercontinental journey of the virus sweeping across borders. I loved the way, this was explained so simply by a 13-year-old who told me that, “If each team player plays for himself then the team will lose. It is our match with Corona too, and we are losing until we become strong team-players.” 

Remain compassionate 

Being quarantined is a privilege. That is something that is becoming obvious to all of us. From the comfort of our homes, we talk about the joy of slowing down, savouring moments with our families, loitering through the day aimlessly and posting pictures of gratitude. However, the trauma to the marginalised and the most vulnerable is something we will only get to understand in the months and years to come. Activists around the world are talking about the rise in domestic violence and abuse during the lockdowns. Think — there are 18 million street children in our country alone. Where do they go, who takes care of their meals, who looks out for them when adults who are supposed to protect them become predators? It is also heartening to see efforts being made by so many organisations to step up. We have to make compassion go viral in the coming months so that together we weather the storm and build our interconnected lives back.  

A day at a time

Lockdown has disrupted our daily rhythm, especially for young people in the age group of 15 to 21. There is nothing much to do, nowhere to go and nobody to meet. A 19-year-old described it as a “weird sense of vacuum,” a sentiment echoed by many others. This void can spiral into depression and other mental health problems if left unchecked. In my co-research I have found that what helps people is finding at least three anchors through the day which brings in stillness (yoga, meditation, walks), cultivating joyous moments and connection with people we love. 

Growing our tribe

“We are all in this together,” is popping up everywhere and people are rebuilding unique bridges in unique ways. Forgotten friends, relatives are being remembered and connections are being made. As a 21-year-old explained to me, “Structures of individualism and neoliberalism have to give way to structures of empathy.” It reminded me of A Letter to the UK from Italy by the writer Francesca Melnadri, “Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: ‘How are you doing?’

Enduring Adversity 

Victor E Frankl, Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, expressed it beautifully in his brilliant book called Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a (wo)man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” Fear is inevitable in the present time but courage and fear can go hand in hand. Andrew Solomon, author of Far from The Tree, talks about how crucial it is for us to take our adversity and forge some meaning out of it. Think of one person you admire deeply, who changed the world for the better, it could be Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama. In all these amazing people’s lives, adversity has been a catalyst for them to find meaning in their life and bring about the change. As Solomon so eloquently explains it, “If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes.” Hats off to all the heroes across the world who have been slaying the Corona dragon. 

Courage is not a trait or a quality; it is a practice – to keep moving forward, to choose one’s attitude, to be compassionate without discrimination, to not let adversity to define us and live our lives as close to what we value the most. No matter what. 

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