I believe that in the deluge of all the rampant noise, clarity is essential. Billions of people have billions of agendas to fulfill, billions of urgent tasks at hand, and billions of crises to manage. A vegetable vendor outside my society wondering whether any sale will be made today; a person who just lost his job thinking of how to make the ends meet; a dying voice of a patient in the overcrowded din of a hospital rush; a family mourning the death of a loved one; or a person feeling the heat of an intense financial crisis. In no way I am in any capacity to give lessons for such situations. I can only hope to learn from them.
So many of us don’t find the luxury to reflect as, rightly so, we have more pressing things to attend to that I can’t even fathom. Neither can I offer food or shelter to the millions displaced, nor can I offer a shoulder to cry to the millions who lost their loved ones. I can only make a heartfelt attempt to reflect on what went by. I can’t ease your pain but I can only give you hope to look forward to something better as I hope for the same myself. As a writer and a thinker, I can’t offer any advice to you, but I can only encourage you to introspect within from the lessons I learned in the year that went by.
Lesson #1 Small is significant, much more than you thought.
We try to reach for the stars but forget the ground on which we stand. We try to race for the big but we overlook what’s the significance of the small. One of the lessons that stood out for me in hindsight was that the little things mattered most as the irrelevant appeared more and more inconsequential. What I overtly focused on earlier seemed inconsequential during this time and it simply faded away to the back as the small things came to the fore. The little gestures, the little stories, the little acts of kindness, the little acts of harshness, the little acts of generosity, and the little acts of indifference all started to affect my psychology.
Things that I took for granted earlier seem blatantly more important. Something as little as listening to a story from my daughter every night we go to bed. I took this five-minute thing for granted earlier or perhaps thought this could be pushed away to some other ‘utopian’ time, due to work has become a part of my everyday living now. Even something as small as my pet dog sitting next to me and looking intently at me for attention, at times earlier I used to shove away, I started to take notice. Earlier I used to come back a bit late, and there he (Simba) used to just sit in front of me, with his little black eyes staring at me, wanting some affection, pleadingly looking at me after I came back from work. The unconditionality of his love for me, that I earlier ignored or took for granted, during this time, I started to and made it a point to acknowledge. Even something as small as the whole family sitting every Saturday for playing a board game (like ‘Ticket to Ride’ or ‘Game of Life’) became an indispensable part and a thing to look forward to.
Conversely, it also became evident that the value of something that I thought I freely had or I got easily but was suddenly taken away, dramatically increased - like my freedom. The freedom to go out, freedom to go to places that I cherished, freedom to roam around, freedom to sit at a beautiful place, freedom to even meet or freedom to talk face to face, one fine day, and consequent to one dramatic ‘lockdown’ speech, was taken away (of course for my own good!). But as time passed, I slowly and gradually realized that this freedom, which I earlier so easily exercised subconsciously and took for granted, how valuable that freedom is to me.
The little joys of life!
Lesson #2 No need to either look at the bright side, or the crap side of life. Look at what is.
This lesson in itself is counterintuitive. Some can say that the very fact that you say this is being pessimistic, others can also see an angle of optimism in it. But 2020 taught me to be neither of the two, instead, it forced me to become not a pessimist, not an optimist but - a realist. This was probably one of the most significant self-discoveries for me. When adversity or a crisis stares at you in your face, then all the ‘bright side’ and ‘positivity’ crap goes outside the window.
As I keep giving this analogy, (and I love to) if something’s shit then you can’t cover it with ice-cream and sell it off as something delicious. What’s shit remains shit. The omnipresent crisis forced me to acknowledge that shit - an act that I may have ignored or turned a blind eye to but by doing so I began to take ownership of my current predicament. When you acknowledge the status quo, that pushes you to make a change for the better. This crisis may have only facilitated the probability of the inevitable happening and that’s what one needs to realize. Instead of dragging on, it is at times wise to drop the load and fend for some newer or better pastures. Better to give way to what wasn’t working out and explore a new possibility for what can work out.
To some 2020 may have caused them to get on the ‘reverse gear’ and transition from what they wanted to what they actually needed, with others thinking that, this is a sign to cut out the superfluous from their lives. People soon got hit by the ‘I can do without that thing’ bug and take this crisis as an opportunity to rejig their lives, which takes me to the next lesson.
Lesson #3 You can run but you can’t hide (from yourself)
Sitting at home or binge-watching on OTT or working from home or seeing the same faces day-in and day-out, one thing that I am glad that 2020 offered me was the time to ruminate and ponder. I think the only thing I binged on during most of the time in 2020 was – deep self-diving.
The adage ‘begin with the end in mind’ became ever more glorified. If you haven’t heard it then good I told you, but it actually forms the second habit as per 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Most of us may have read it, heard it, spoken about it, talked about it in presentations, or preached it to someone, but never have come around to actually practicing it. I am in a way glad that 2020, may have psychologically coerced us into thinking about ‘What is it that I want to do?’ or ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is it that’s important to me?’
These may appear superficial and frivolous however these are questions that matter the most in our life. What is it that you want to do with your life? And I am sure, as you sat staring blankly at your TV screens there were times that made you think in that direction, in some way or the other. For me, this deep self-diving was more like peeling out the outer layers from an onion to get to my inner core and that helped me connect more with myself. I am glad that by happenstance I stumbled upon systems that facilitated that connection further.
There were those who thought they could keep running or hiding behind the rush of life, but thanks to 2020 they got channeled to realize that what they were covering for years they had no other option but to confront it. They had no option but to confront who they are. Yet there were those who were inundated with the 14-hour long workdays, the intense meetings, the review presentations, the back-to-back conferences, the crazy travel amidst the irritating phone calls, and who were very voluble about all of it, may have experienced a sudden state of shock from the sudden freed-up time. Not knowing what to do this ‘forced idle-ism’ on them may have been an opportunity in disguise as it made them confront their worst emotions, their worst fears, or even their worst nightmares. Unknowingly this may have made them stronger.
Lesson #4 In adversity, you get to know people better than you ever did
You’re exposed! If you’re a good husband or a bad wife; a bad father or a good mother, a shady character or an empathetic one; a good human being or a duplicitous character, a magnanimous person or a stingy one, an optimist or a pessimist. Chances are that though 2020 may have given you a new perspective on humans, it just amplified who you really are inside. If you’re sensitive it only magnified your sensitivity. If you’re wary it augmented your wariness. If you are fearful it only intensified that fear. If you were strong it just made you stronger. If you are mean this just made you meaner. If you’re paranoid your paranoia has gotten to another level only. Usually, in times of crisis, the true character of a person gets revealed. If you’ve been bad to another or if you’ve been good to another, the passage of this time has unraveled your true nature to the other. This crisis was like a sting operation that just exposed you.
On a lighter note, I found this applicable in my own life. Things which I was a little touchy about earlier I realize I am touchier about them now. Something that slightly perturbed me earlier now irks me even more. Instead of increasing the emotional threshold, paradoxically this crisis may have pushed our emotional threshold levels further down.
Interestingly this realization has not only changed the way how you see humans and brought out their inherent flaws but the crisis also has landed you with a choice to make – a choice of who you want to be?
Lesson #5 The true value of money
A couple of months back, I had written an article on ‘How values shaped our health’ and in it, I wrote about values and how the value hierarchy gets created with the events that happen in your life. This dramatic crisis has no doubt caused a complete rejig of our value hierarchy. In fact, more than anything else, it’s shifted our value for money and placed it right at the top. By god, the amount of shit I used to spend my money on earlier, you have no idea. Even as corporations realized what expense they could do without, people soon realized ‘living within means’ is the key and one who did that earlier, was the one who managed to go through unscathed.
As the contagion spread and infections rose, the medical expenses increased disproportionately. Things got worse as the medical infrastructure literally collapsed. It was bone-chilling to even try to understand how expensive its treatment had become and this emotion further exacerbated inside me, knowing very well I couldn’t afford it. No other time have I realized the value of having money more than I did during this time.
Where money may have featured low on anyone's mental value hierarchy earlier I am sure this crisis has pushed the value ‘money is important’ to the top. Where people didn’t bother putting aside funds every month for contingencies, this crisis might have created a new value in them, ‘I have to save money consistently not only for the purpose of wealth creation but for battling such unforeseen contingencies that may arise in future.’ Where people paid no hoots to health & life insurances I am sure they now understand how valuable this financial instrument truly is in their lives.
But finally, the biggest lesson I learned was...
Lesson #6 Life is sacred. Don’t take it for granted.
Though I have never taken my health for granted and have always harped on ‘health is the greatest asset’, the year 2020 only reinforced this notion. It’s now more blatant than ever before that your health can’t be just an option to act upon. It can’t be treated like a checkbox in your daily schedule. The sanctity of your life is inviolable and your health is sacred. To those who moaned about having no time for their health, you don’t have any excuse now. To those who spoke highly of their busy-ness and compromised on their health, you have no other option but to get un-busy when it comes to your health.
This pandemic caused widespread panic when it came to one’s health. Not only did we see an explosion in 'health' content on social media but we also saw a surge in the various 'health' fads. As corporations and advertisers capitalized on this newfound opportunity to spread the 'health' message the year also saw an increase in innovative diet hacks. People all of a sudden wanted to become fit and attain impeccable levels of immunity overnight to somehow escape this health crisis. This pandemic-ridden year understandably saw an intensification of these emotions. Whereas this realization is essential and appreciable, it’s also gut-wrenching to know that you only attain good levels of health over a very long period of time and if you act on it on a consistent daily basis.
To conclude, the year 2020 not only made us more mindful about our life but the fact that we are even alive to welcome 2021 should fill us with immense gratitude and humility for the Almighty. However, it has indeed been a very tragic year. Personally having lost, and seen so many who lost their loved ones, I am not on the highest of highs to welcome the new year but I more or less bid 2020 goodbye with a profound sense of grief and sadness.